When a haul of more than 4,000 endangered turtles were confiscated from a well-organized syndicate of poachers in the Philippines in mid-June, a successful rescue story seemed unlikely.
Discovered in a Chinese-owned warehouse on the island of Palawan, many of the animals were in poor condition and were destined for the illegal food and pet trade markets in East Asia.
But thanks to the rapid response orchestrated by a coalition of turtle conservation groups, the good news is that 2,828 turtles have been released to date and after an initial peak of deaths in the first days, very few further deaths are now occurring. According to the Turtle Conservancy Team, approximately 505 turtles remain in poor condition and have been started on a treatment regime. That tallies 3,333 turtles saved.
Of the initial 4,000 animals seized, nearly 3,800 were Philippine Forest Turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis), a Critically Endangered species that is endemic to the Island of Palawan. The number seized vastly exceeded the understanding of what the wild population might be. Historically this species was known from just four specimens, before being rediscovered in 2004 in Northern Palawan where it is known to have a very restricted range.
The race against the clock started 19 June when the Palawan Island based Katala Foundation -a previous SOS Grantee - was alerted to this massive confiscation. By the second day the global turtle conservation community began mobilising veterinarians, animal husbandry experts and volunteers converging on the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center to manage and triage the confiscation.
Over the course of the following week the team managed to dig temporary ponds and organise medical supplies. The team also separated out the turtles in poor condition from the visibly healthy group while the deceased were collected and recorded. The long process of recovery and rehabilitation had begun in earnest and several hundred turtles have already been released back into the wild.
While being a success and a testament to the power of team work, the story is not over for these turtles yet. According to the Turtle Conservancy Team they will need continued therapy for many months to come. Funds will be needed to support a rotating team of veterinarians and caregivers to manage the shell ulcerations, eye and skin problems, bone infections, dehydration, emaciation, and septicemia.
Funding will also be needed to monitor the released turtles and enhance our understanding of the remaining wild population not to mention how this massive illegal collection was orchestrated in the first place.
As such SOS is monitoring the situation and looks forward to sharing further news and developments on the rescue and recovery efforts on Palawan Island soon.
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