TURTLE RESCUE: Conservationists Rally to Save Thousands of Illegally Harvested Turtles in the Philippines

Warehouse raid on Palawan Island included more than 3,800 critically endangered Palawan forest turtles Siebenrockiella leytensis

Many of the turtles are suffering from injuries linked to their capture and confinement

Turtles were destined for food and pet trade markets in China

Response team includes: Bronx Zoo (Wildlife Conservation Society), Katala Foundation, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Survival Alliance, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Ocean Park Hong Kong, and New England Aquarium


Palawan, Philippines (July 6, 2015) – A consortium of conservation groups are rallying together to save thousands of illegally harvested turtles confiscated during a warehouse raid by authorities on the Philippine island of Palawan. 


More than 4,000 animals were seized during the operation. Among those, more than 3,800 were endemic Palawan forest turtles—a Critically Endangered species. Many of the turtles are suffering from a variety of ailments and injuries due to their confinement and are being treated by a team of veterinarians.

Joining the effort are WCS’s (Wildlife Conservation Society) Bronx Zoo, Katala Foundation , Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Survival Alliance, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Ocean Park Hong Kong,  New England Aquarium, and the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.

Responders, including veterinarians, pathologists, veterinary technicians, and turtle experts, are conducting a triage of the animals to identify those in condition good enough to be released, and those in need of care. Veterinary treatment is ongoing for a host of conditions including bone infections, eye and skin ailments, emaciation, dehydration, and septicemia.


“The situation is a difficult one when you consider the treatment of these animals, the neglect they have suffered, and poor condition that many are in,” said WCS’s Bronx Zoo Senior Veterinarian Dr.John Sykes. “But it is inspiring to see a quick response and people from different groups sharing their expertise and coming together to pitch in to help save these endangered animals.”


The raid by authorities took place on June 17th in Rio Tuba, Bataraza in Southern Palawan – outside the range of the Palawan forest turtle. Conservationists were stunned by the reported situation in the warehouse, both because of the animals’ condition and by the sheer number of Palawan forest turtles, which actually exceeded the current worldwide population estimates.


Reportedly, the turtles were being stored without food or water on concrete floored tanks, which created ulcerations and wounds to their plastrons and legs. Eventually the turtles would have been shipped to food and pet trade markets in China.


Fort Worth Zoo Biologist and Turtle Survival Alliance President Rick Hudson said, “The outpouring of support for this crisis has been phenomenal— in particular the unified response from the turtle conservation community.  Together, through teamwork and sharing resources, we have turned a dismal and chaotic situation into one of hope and order.  And we've given a second chance to a lot of turtles.”


Palawan forest turtles are nocturnal and solitary animals and were believed extinct until their rediscovery in 2004. They are found only on the Palawan Group of Islands (five municipalities in northern Palawan) and are prized by turtle collectors and consumers. This popularity has led to poaching and sophisticated networks similar to those that drive the tiger, pangolin, and ivory trades in Southeast Asia, pushing the animals to the brink of extinction. Today, the Palawan forest turtle is one of the most endangered turtle species in the world.


To date, approximately 358 of the turtles have died but the scientists feel that the number of reported fatalities has peaked and will now slow down. Nearly 3000 turtles have been released in Northern Palawan. The remaining animals are being treated at the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (former Crocodile Farming Institute) at Puerto Princessa City.


Dr Sonja Luz, Director for Conservation and Research, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said, “The first days on site were overwhelming as we spent hours sorting out healthy animals from those that needed treatment.  I am glad to see the amazing progress achieved by the various teams, and to know that the majority of animals have been released back to the wild; where they will hopefully remain in the future.”


Treatment for some of the animals will continue for months and require additional veterinary coverage and supplies. Concerns for the released turtles remain as the illegal trade is thriving.


This turtle rescue effort has been supported by: the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society; the Turtle Survival Alliance; Wildlife Reserves Singapore; Katala Foundation, Ocean Park Hong Kong, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, Hong Kong, New England Aquarium and the members of the Turtle Conservation Coalition (the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, the Turtle Conservation Fund, the Turtle Conservancy, and the Turtle Survival Alliance).




Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org; http://www.facebook.com/TheWCS; http://www.youtube.com/user/WCSMedia  Follow: @TheWCS.