Fighting for survival, China's turtle culture

chinaturtle

New Member
Joined
Jul 4, 2017
Messages
5
Hello all Y'all!

I have recently moved backed to the US after completing a three year postdoc at Peking University in conservation, phyolgenetics, ecology, and market pathways of Chinese turtles. I am starting this thread at the suggestion of another forum member who thought others might be interested in learning more about the situation in China.
I guess I'll begin this thread with a few general observations and everyone can ask more detailed questions as interests/curiosity suits them. I'm in the process of moving back and getting settled in, so I'll do my best to answer any questions in a timely manner and post different experiences as they come to mind.

First, I feel the situation is sometimes sensationalized by some reports and is not really accurate. I feel the truth of what is going on is sensational enough!! While there are large shows or expos for turtles, they really are not that big, other than Shunde and Shanghai expos. These are the expos most foreigners will go to. There are many smaller ones as well. These large expos are impressive, but most of the animals on display are all captive bred or LTC. Not really much different than expos I've been to in the US, except these are specifically for turtles. The dishes served at the expo banquet dinners do sometimes have turtles on the menu, but these are all farm raised. Typically reeve's pond turtles and Chinese softshells. So while it sounds horrible, I really do not see much harm. While we might consider eating a turtle to be offensive because we keep them as pets, it is a different culture in China, and is acceptable.

In my opinion, the truly appalling aspect of the turtle trade in China, is the apathy the government has in enforcement. If the government enforced their own wildlife laws, turtles would be much more abundant in the wilds of China (as would many other species). This unfortunately, is not confined to China. Many SE Asian countries have similar problems.

In China, the most effective conservation method is captive breeding. Most conservation programs have a captive breeding component, which, is usually necessary in China due to depleted wild populations. However, the mentality is captive breeding is the best form of conservation, not in situ forms of conservation which is typically the western train of thought and CB programs are a last resort. This CB first train of thought has several reasons behind it, and was hard to agree with at first, but now I better understand why this occurs. The issue is these CB programs do not have much direction, i.e., how many will be released, what follow up surveys will be done, where will they be released etc. So most are not effective, or never even make it to the release stage of the project. Or worse yet, they release non-native animals into the wild!

One quick comment on poachers. When I landed in China, I had the preconceived notion all poachers are evil. Guess it was just my naive/arrogant western ideals ;p. I found the people poaching the animals in general to be more kind and more helpful than the government workers (not always, I have some good friends who work in govt positions, but in general it is the case). Over the past three years, I have developed good friendships with some of the local people, and they are the ones who led us to remnant populations of G. spengleri, M. mutica and S. bealei. I came to realize these people are not evil, they are just trying to feed, clothe and provide for their family like the rest of us. Also, many poachers are minority people, who have historically lived off the land. Its in their culture to harvest from the wild. Now they have just over done it. They might make 500 USD a month from their crops, a few turtles can match or exceed their income from crops. I can't blame them for doing it. My friends readily tell me, "if we had job opportunities, I'd never go into the mountains to collect". It is hard work and not a steady source of income for most, just an occasional boost. I wish I could say I've influenced some to stop poaching, but I have not. I am glad to see that some are finding jobs and that in some of these villages the local people are spending less time in the mountains. Still a long ways to go, but its a small step in the right direction. Once again, poaching comes down to law enforcement. If laws were enforced, poaching would be minimal. The money to be gained would not be worth the risk, unfortunately, enforcement is severely lacking. Also, the up and coming generation of kids are digitally addicted like most youth in the US. Even though kids are surrounded by mountains, the teenagers do not go into the mountains much. They are on cellular devices too. Also, many are leaving the villages to go to college or find jobs in the cities. I think in the near future poaching will decline simply due to this change in lifestyle. It is good for conservation, but sad for the loss of some of the cultural identity.

Well, Its late and I feel I'm rambling, so I will check back in soon. Everyone have great day!
 

mark1

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Dec 31, 2015
Messages
1,684
Location (City and/or State)
ohio
soon enough they will have to find jobs or raise crops because it is very unlikely their wild sources of turtles will not run out .......... i agree it's not just them , it's everywhere i know of ..... here in the US , state specific protection just increases the incentive to poach ..... i know of many entire wild populations of turtles extirpated in just my lifetime ........
 

chinaturtle

New Member
Joined
Jul 4, 2017
Messages
5
Had a few minutes so I thought I'd add a few pictures. Everyone loves pictures! The first picture is of Hainan type spengleri in a villagers home. There were 29 in the trap. the picture does not show that many as we had some out taking measurements. The villagers are very effective at collecting them. Too effective. They have collected over 2,500 animals from two mountain peaks over the last 2.5 yrs. The populations is quickly being decimated.

The second photo is of a female we found in the mountains. We are doing a long term study at this site. It is still intact even though poaching occurs in this area, it is very low.

I'll post more pics occasionally and describe what is happening in the pics.

Everyone have a great day!
 

Attachments

  • DSC_0003.JPG
    DSC_0003.JPG
    3.9 MB · Views: 25
  • IMG_4946.JPG
    IMG_4946.JPG
    1.1 MB · Views: 27

Kapidolo Farms

Well-Known Member
10 Year Member!
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Nov 7, 2012
Messages
5,133
Location (City and/or State)
South of Southern California, but not Mexico
I agree with most all that you have written regarding what makes effective and ineffective conservation and the spirit of poachers. I had a similar experience in Viet Nam.

Topics that may be within your interest to discuss is the idea of 'folk medicine'.

And the many hundreds of poachers outside of China the help fuel the 'disposable' turtle ideology in China. Traffic reports busts frequently of animals being transported to China from essentially every other country in Asia, not to mention Africa as a continent, and both north and south America. Legal or not, 10's of millions of turtles go to China for food.

This video, now 20 years old, is the source of the where some of the angst/hysterical view that many westerners have comes from...

I get it that hungry people want to eat. Americans eat way more protein than Chinese. I'm not looking to read a defense of behaviors, but rather a idea of where these trends are today, and where you see them going. Farming turtles for food is, in a bigger picture, not so different than farming any other animal, other than arguments about vegetarian diets and/or feed conversion ratios.

Pedrano* has written most about the mega population that includes both in-situ and ex-situ components regarding turtles. I worked 16 years for an NGO that was a semi ex-situ effort for in-situ population recovery/mediation. It is difficult to assess the utility even when all the players cooperate.

It's really great to read your narrative. I look forward to more and hope your intercontinental move is smooth.

*I don't recall the whole reference
 

mark1

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Dec 31, 2015
Messages
1,684
Location (City and/or State)
ohio
while I've never seen this video ,I think the cause of my hysteria is the fact that practically all the critically endangered turtle species in the world are native to asia ....... seeing what's happened here in the united states in my lifetime , which is a pretty environmentally friendly country , is a look at what happens , in a country that is actually making an effort ............ no matter how understandable the reasons , the end is inevitable , it's not going to be the first time , these turtles are not adaptable prolific reproducers ....you diminish their range to a point where one environmental disaster ends it ......
 
Top