Put turtles up for adoption, don’t kill them, says conservationist

Researcher and conservationist Chen Pelf Nyok.

PETALING JAYA: A turtle researcher and conservationist has urged wildlife officials to spearhead adoption programmes for turtles listed as invasive alien species (IAS) instead of disposing of them, which is the current protocol of the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to prevent the extinction of local turtle species.

Marine biologist Chen Pelf Nyok said this does not have to be the only option, adding that in the US, for example, those who keep exotic turtles sometimes put them up for adoption as they do for cats and dogs.

Chen, who has been working with turtles for the last 16 years, said potential pet owners are also “screened” first.

“They have their gardens checked for any flowering plants that could be dangerous for turtle consumption or if there is a necessary stockpile of food for the turtles,” she told FMT.

“It would be good if there was a programme that allows potential turtle and tortoise owners to adopt rather than buy.”

Last week, Perhilitan director-general Abdul Kadir Abu Hassan said the department had disposed of 2,800 baby red-eared slider (RES) turtles confiscated by customs officials from two foreigners at klia2.

“As the red-eared slider is listed as an IAS in Malaysia and most parts of the world, Perhilitan will not release them into the wild,” he told FMT, adding that the animals had no “conservational value” as they would damage the ecosystem.

Kadir also said it would be too expensive for his department to take care of the turtles.

IAS include plants, animals, pathogens and other organisms that are non-native to an ecosystem and which may cause economic or environmental harm or adversely affect human health.

Chen said adoption programmes would help curb the illegal trade of such species in markets where they would be bought as pets or cooked and served as delicacies.

“Perhilitan could allow other NGOs to do it, like how it is with SPCA or PAWS,” she said, referring to the societies tasked with taking care of stray dogs and cats.

Chen, the co-founder of an NGO called Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia, said groups like hers only conduct research and do not have permits to take in turtles given to them by the public.

She said while the RES is a popular pet species worldwide, problems arise when they are abandoned by their owners.

“They are quite popular with children because they are cheap and easy to take care of, but when the children grow up or study abroad, their parents will just release the RES into any drain or pond they find.

“When the RES come into contact with local turtle species, they will fight for resources and win. They are also good climbers and can live in drains and rivers and kill to survive.

“If they are released into our waterways without control, we will lose all 18 of our local species of turtles,” she said.

Chen urged parents to educate their children on the dangers of abandoning RES and to stop buying them from traders in wet markets and online.

This will help curb the trade and indirectly support adoption programmes, she said.

Perhilitan also conducts public awareness programmes to discourage people from acquiring RES because of their IAS status.