Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eating turtles to extinction?

As a lover of all animals, I must admit, my deep appreciation for herps (reptiles and amphibians) came later in life.  Don't get me wrong - I was always fascinated by them.  I always picked up frogs and toads, despite the "warts" warning from my friends, always stopped (or made my parents stop) to move box turtles across the road.  But it wasn't until I married my husband - a bonafide herpetologist (and more specifically rattlesnake biologist) that I gained a real appreciation for these little understood animals.

Like how the metabolism of a turtle is so slow, if they are fatally injured it can take days or even weeks for them to expire.  Consider that the next time you see an injured turtle on the roadside (or even worse - consider running over a turtle in the road).  Not to mention many of them are probably older than you are.

Or like how a limbless snake must rely on it's extra-sensory organs, such as heat-sensing pits and scent-sensing Jacobson's organs, to catch its dinner - which it then must do with its mouth and nothing else.  Could you do that?

They are fascinating creatures, with fascinating life histories and roles within the ecosystem, and contrary to popular belief, were NOT put here for the sole purpose of harming us.  Trust me - after tracking many timber rattlesnakes with my husband in east-central Missouri, and finding myself on more than one occasion standing inches from a coiled snake yet never receiving any indication it was there (hiss/rattle/strike), I know these animals have a "live and let live" attitude.  They want to be left alone.  The only reason I ever knew I was inches from them is because of the transmitter implanted in their bodies which my husband was able to to track to, well - just beside my foot!  Otherwise I would have stepped right over/past them and never even known.

So, this is the first of what will probably be a few posts on hazards facing herpetofauna, why we should care, and what we should do.  I hope you also find them interesting, and worth protecting, enough to do something for them.

The first article I encourage you to read was a New York Times editorial titled Eating the Wild.  Here's an excerpt:
As global wealth rises, so does global consumption of meat, which includes wild meat. Turtle meat used to be a rare delicacy in the Asian diet, but no longer. China, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan, has vacuumed the wild turtles out of most of Southeast Asia. Now, according to a recent report in The Los Angeles Times, they are consuming common soft-shell turtles from the American Southeast, especially Florida, at an alarming rate.

Here's a National Geographic article about the same topic.

The second was a BBC News article titled A Billion Frogs on World's Plates.  Here's an excerpt:
Up to one billion frogs are taken from the wild for human consumption each year, according to a new study.  France and the US are the two biggest importers, with significant consumption in several East Asian nations.

What can you do?  First of all - refuse to eat wild-harvested reptiles and amphibians.  In the US they are popularly prepared as turtle soup and frog legs.  And don't put any other pressure on these already dwindling populations, such as having them for pets.

Second, write to your state legislature and encourage them to list native herps as protected species.  In some states, they are.  In others, people are free to do with them as they please - including collecting them for mass export to other countries.

Finally, become informed, and participate in action alerts having to do with these matters when possible.  I encourage you to join : The Only Free Weekly E-Zine That Reports on The Latest News on Herpetological Conservation and Science as well as Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.  Their mission?  "To conserve amphibians, reptiles and their habitats as integral parts of our ecosystem and culture through proactive and coordinated public-private partnerships.”

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