Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Pig-Nosed Turtles Resting in Indonesia After Apparent Abduction – via Herp Digest

By Resty Woro Yuniar, WSJ Blog, SoutheastAsiaRealtime, 4/3/13

The Jakarta Natural Resources Center is the new home of nearly 700 baby pig-nosed turtles that were rescued from an apparent smuggling operation at the airport of Indonesia’s capital city.

“We are still considering whether to release them in their original habitat in Papua [Indonesia] or breed them until they’re big enough to survive in the wild,” Awen Supranata, the head of the Jakarta Natural Resources Center, told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Supranata noted that it is “still dangerous to release them at the moment” since they are food to such predators as large fish and snakes.

The fresh-water turtles – which get their nickname from their pig-like snouts – have seen their populations nosedive and are protected under Indonesian law and an international treaty. While they can grow to 40 pounds, they are appealing as babies in pet stores, thus spurring smugglers to see them as swimming money.  These exotic baby turtles can be sold by smugglers for up to $20 each. Exotic pet lovers may pay from $500 to $2,000 for an adult pig-nosed turtle on the black market.

The turtles’ scientific name is carettochelys insculpta and they are found in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Trade of such turtles is strictly regulated under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international treaty to protect threatened animals, fish and plants.

The turtles were discovered Monday by officials from the Jakarta Fish and Inspection Agency in packages registered as baggage on a Sriwijaya Air flight from Papua to Jakarta. The shipment lacked proper documents, meaning the identity of the smuggler wasn’t easily discovered.

“We are still investigating the smuggler,” Teguh Samudro, head of the fishery control agency at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, said in a statement on the agency’s website.  About one attempt to smuggle pig-nosed turtles is thwarted each year.

But Chairul Saleh, the endangered species conservation science coordinator at the World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, predicts they were destined for sale to exotic pet lovers.

“Based on the number of turtles in the packages, I think they’re going to be sold as pets,” said Mr. Saleh.

Under a 1990 Indonesian law, convicted smugglers of protected animal and plants can face up to three years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $15,400.

If authorities decide not to release the turtles into the wild, they have several options to encourage them to breed.

“We have a semi-natural breeding facility in Lampung,” said Mr. Supratna of Jakarta Natural Resources Center “Or we can transfer them to Taman Safari, which (has experience in breeding) pig-nosed turtles,” he added, referring to a zoo in Bogor, West Java.

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