|Several box turtles confiscated by SCDNR|
A law enforcement arrest of an illegal box turtle smuggler in South Carolina crawled to the top of the headlines in September. The Eastern box turtle is commonly found in the Southeast and is usually ubiquitous with people as one of the friendliest wildlife species to encounter in the wild. The equation that tempts this illegal trade remains in place today, a combination of global demand from Asia and inadequate laws protecting this species in South Carolina. The Turtle Survival Alliance based in Charleston advocates to change the current laws, or face a landscape devoid of the beloved box turtle.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources reports that 200 box turtles were in the possession of the smuggling operation based in Chester County. Since box turtles are not usually found in high concentrations, it is particularly alarming to find such a high number of box turtles ready for smuggling. The questions raised from this bust include how many other smugglers are out there, what is number of people that are scooping up box turtles for pay, and what can be done to prevent box turtles from being harvested from any protected properties that are open to the public.
Will Dillman is a herpetologist with the SCDNR. “We know this illegal trade is going on and we are beginning to catch more of the offenders,” said Dillman. “Box turtles are a part of the International pet trade, food trade and medicinal trade. Other turtle species are in peril too, but the more colorful and ornate the turtle, the higher the black market price in Asia. A longtime cultural affinity for turtles in Asia has driven many of their own turtle species past the brink of sustainability, and they have the disposable income that is fueling global demand.”
Jordan Gray is the Communications Coordinator for the Turtle Survival Alliance. “We were founded in 2001 in Texas and then established a Turtle Survival Center in 2013 in the Lowcountry and moved our headquarters to South Carolina,” said Gray. “We work with 118 species of turtles and tortoises around the world including the Top 20 endangered turtles. The illegal trade of the Eastern box turtle is a hot topic right now and South Carolina is at the epicenter of much of the discussion.”
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