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No. 130, 9th May 2014

1. Philippines: Sea Turtles a Flash Point in South China Sea Dispute

SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
DATE: 7th May 2014

How did turtles become a flash point in the territorial spat in the South China Sea? Many would argue that it's because the endangered creatures are worth a fight. In the Philippines — where five of the world's seven species of sea turtle live — poaching sea turtles is a crime that can come with up to 12 years in prison and fines of up to $22,500, depending on the type of turtle. Still, poachers seek them out for their meat, which is believed in some cultures to enhance virility, and their shells, which are used for jewelry. On Wednesday the 7th of May, the Philippines arrested the crew of a Chinese fishing vessel near the disputed Spratly Islands after receiving reports of poachers in the area. The Chinese vessel contained around 500 sea turtles, some of them dead, the police said. The arrest prompted rebuke from Beijing, which called on the Philippines to release the crew. In recent years, other Chinese fishermen have been caught by Philippine authorities for poaching turtles or other endangered species such as clams and anteaters. "Even if those turtles didn't come from the Philippines, [the alleged poachers] could still be prosecuted here because sea turtles are globally protected animals," said Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Link to this web article online (English)

In this December 2011 photo, Philippine Navy personnel unload twelve Green Sea Turtles seized from Chinese fishermen at Puerto Princesa city port in the southwestern Philippines. Nine of the turtles were already dead and the remaining three were tagged and released to the sea. Palawan Council for Sustainable Development/Associated Press

2. Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam: Rare turtles confiscated from the illegal trade.

DATE: 7th May 2014

On the 7th of May 2014, Quang Ngai police confiscated 21 kilograms of precious, rare wild animals in a coach. It was claimed that there were 9 rare turtles involved in the case.

The animals were all alive adult and sub-adults turtles. According to Nguyen Thanh Luan (ATP), the shipment included 2 Elongated tortoises (Indotestudo elongata), 2 male Orange-headed temple turtles (Heosemys grandis), and 4 female Striped-necked leaf turtles (Cyclemys pulchristriata). Vietnam ' s Red Book and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list Indotestudo elongata as endangered, Heosemys grandis as vulnerable, and Cyclemys pulchristriata is listed as a Lower Risk Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The case came to the attention of the Quang Ngai province ' s Forest Protection Sub Department, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) and the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) in Cuc Phuong National Park, Ninh Binh province. All agencies and organisations involved in this case are working together to transfer the turtles to the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC). There were also 7 snakes discovered in the shipment and identified as King Cobras (Ophiophagus hannah), Chinese cobras (Naja atra), and Rat snakes (Ptyas Mucosa) with the total weight of 11,5 kg. The snakes were then released back to the wild in the Nui Ngang Lake ' s area. The man transporting the turtles will be fined 40 million VND ($1,902.95).

Link 1 to this web article online

Link 2 to this web article online (Vietnamese)


© Trí Tín

3. Madagascar, South Africa: New Project Launched to Tackle Trafficking in Critically Endangered Ploughshare Tortoises

DATE: 7th May 2014

While the public focuses its attention on well-known charismatic species, the appalling trade in lesser-known species, such as the ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora), has gone largely unnoticed — until now. A consortium of leading conservation groups has launched a new drive to combat the illegal trade of these extremely rare tortoises, which are found only in Madagascar. The project aims to conserve ploughshare tortoises using a multifaceted approach. It provides techniques to monitor and protect animals in the wild using community guardians and National Park rangers, utilises market analyses to build a picture of the entire trade chain from the wild to dealers in Southeast Asia, and works with the UK Border Force to train local customs and law enforcement agents, in order to increase seizures within Madagascar.

Astrochelys yniphora is listed in Appendix I of CITES and is considered critically endangered (CR) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The ploughshare is sought after by hobbyists and collectors — individuals that clearly are not concerned with the conservation of this species. Since the political crisis began in Madagascar in 2009, there has been a major surge in illegal collection of ploughshare tortoises for the pet trade. This has led to a 30 percent reduction in the wild population over the last three years alone; now fewer than 500 adults or sub-adults remain in the wild. These individuals are restricted to a tiny area in the North West of Madagascar. Their entire range is enclosed by the Baly Bay National Park — the only national park established in Madagascar for a single species.

Link to this web article online (English)

© Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

© Turtle Conservancy

4. USA: Study finds turtles are closer kin to birds, crocodiles than to lizards, snakes

DATE: 5th May 2014

What are turtles, and where did they come from?
Precise answers to these questions have long eluded scientists. New research led by Daniel Field of Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution recasts the turtle ' s disputed evolutionary history, providing fresh evidence that the familiar reptiles are more closely related to birds and crocodiles than to lizards and snakes. Field and collaborators report their findings in the May 5th issue of the journal Evolution and Development. The paper is titled “ Toward consilience in reptile phylogeny: microRNAs support an archosaur, not lepidosaur, affinity for turtles.” Reptiles comprise a vast animal group of more than 20,000 species. The interrelationships of some subgroups are well understood, the scientists said. Birds are most closely related to crocodilians among living reptiles, for example, while snakes, lizards, and New Zealand ' s tuatara form a natural group. But turtles ' precise place has been unclear, in part due to conflicting research results. Although a growing number of DNA sequence studies show a close evolutionary kinship between turtles and archosaurs (birds, crocodilians), these studies have sometimes been contradicted by anatomical studies and other research involving small biomolecules called microRNAs that indicate a closer relationship between turtles and lizards and snakes. However, Field and collaborators revisited a foundational microRNA study, applied updated criteria for microRNA identification, and came to a different conclusion. Field said microRNAs and DNA sequences now yield a common signal uniting turtles and archosaurs (birds and crocodilians).

Link to this web article online (English)


© Shutterstock

5. Kenya, East Africa: ‘ Tortoise-man ' bags award for this act of kindness

DATE: 4th May 2014

Mr. Mzee Job Tarkwen Kipkech, 73, who has been aiding tortoises cross the busy Nakuru- Marigat highway at Kures Village in Mogotio town, Baringo County, Kenya since 1958, was awarded the Jubilee Insurance Samaritan Award (JISA) for his outstanding effort to help the tortoises. Mogotio is home to all the three types of tortoises in Kenya including the endangered Pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri). Every day for the past 57 years, Mr. Tarkwen Kipkech, has diligently carried out his self-allocated task of helping tortoises cross the Mogotio-Marigat road. And though the act of kindness never drew any appreciation from any quarters in his village, he was never perturbed and was always at hand daily to ensure one of the world ' s slowest creatures made it across the road safely. Mr. Tarkwen Kipkech says that although he is happy somebody somewhere had recognised him that did not mark the end of his rescue mission for the tortoises that are a common sight in the area. Mzee Kipkech says he was herding his goats along the busy road at the youthful age of 20, when he noticed with pity, how the tortoises endangered their lives, ambling across the road, every move a close shave with death. This vulnerability touched him and he has since not stopped to pick up the reptiles and run with them to safety across the road. Alternatively, he waves approaching vehicles down to prevent them hurting the reptiles. But Mzee Kipkech ' s kindness does not end with helping the reptiles to cross the road. He often carries the injured ones home and tends to them as they heal. He also sprays them with acaricides to rid them of bothersome ticks. The old man has appealed to Kenya Wildlife Service to build a water pan on his land to avoid subjecting the reptiles to the treacherous journey for water across the road.

Link to this web article online (English)


6. Australia : Hunting for turtles at the Waterbird Habitat

DATE: 1st May 2014

The discovery of the first Chinese stripe-necked turtle (Mauremys sinensis) living wild in Australia has prompted a major hunt for exotic pests in Toowoomba city's waterways. Dozens of turtles were pulled from the Bicentennial Waterbird Habitat in Rangeville suburds, Toowoomba city, Queensland state, Australia where the exotic animal was found. Only one foreign species was pulled from the waterway - a 5kg southern white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula) believed to be native to the Mary, Burnett or Fitzroy Rivers. Officers discovered nine other non-native turtles during a recent fauna assessment.

ATP NOTE: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists Mauremys sinensis in Appendix III despite the species being considered threatened by extinction and listed as endangered (EN) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Species listed within Appendix III can be more easily traded; only an export permit has to be issued for animals of legal origin. The Mauremys sinensis in Toowoomba city was probably illegally imported to Australia and kept as a pet until the owner released it. In Australia it is illegal to keep exotic turtles and species not listed in the ‘List of specimens taken to be suitable for live import' issued by the Australian government cannot be imported.
The semi-aquatic Mauremys sinensis is native to marshes and slow streams in Asian countries like China; Taiwan, and Viet Nam. Mauremys sinensis is threatened by habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade for food, traditional medicine and pets.

Link 1 to this web article online (English)

Link 2 to this web article online (English)

© Sulaiman Mbathia (Nakuru)


7. Manila, Philippines: 11 Chinese poachers arrested

DATE: 8th May 2014

At 7 a.m. on the 6th of May 2014, at Half Moon Shoal, Palawan Island, Philippines, two fishing vessels were intercepted by maritime patrollers. One of the vessel had a local crew onboard, carrying around 40 turtles and the other fishing vessel had Chinese crewmembers on board, carrying about 500 turtles. However, of the 500 turtles maritime patrollers only found 190 to be alive and 234 were already dead. The captains of the two vessels were identified as Chen Hi Quan and Romantic Banto Amlain. The case is still being investigated.

Link to this web article online (English)


8. Minh Quang Commune, Vu Thu District, Thai Binh province: Rare animals worth 500 million VND stolen

DATE: 28th April 2014

On the 27th of February 2014 , a group of thieves posing as rangers stopped two smugglers and stole 600 kilograms of valuable, rare wild animals worth up to 500 million VND ($23,786.87). After two months of investigation, Thai Binh province's police then arrested the criminals on the 26th of April 2014. Reports show that the animals including a lot of rare turtles, snakes and others were transported to Mong Cai city, Quang Ninh province to be sold into the illegal wildlife trade on the same day they were stolen.

ATP NOTE: Mong Cai-Quang Ninh is near the border between Vietnam and China and a hub for the illegal wildlife in and out of Vietnam. Traders make use of the porous monitoring and enforcement in Mong Cai and according to reports criminals from different provinces of Vietnam steal valuable wildlife in provinces like Thanh Hoa, Ninh Binh, and Gia Lai which all ends up in Mong Cai-Quang Ninh. The police are still investigating the case.

Link to this web article online (Vietnamese)

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