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Chinese tuck into Texas turtles

Export trade threatens snappers, conservationists claim

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Conservation groups have warned that Texas's unprotected turtle species are at risk from unrestricted collection of snappers destined for Chinese gourmets, Reuters reports.

According to figures from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), "an average of 94,442 turtles per year are taken by dealers" - mostly for export.

Chris Jones, an environmental lawyer who has "lobbied for turtle protection" said that, according to US Fish and Wildlife Service figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, "267,000 wild turtles were exported to Hong Kong from Dallas from 2002 to 2005".

Lee Fitzgerald, an associate professor of herpetology at Texas A&M University who's published research on the Texas turtle trade, explained: "Turtles need protection from overharvesting because they are slow to mature and their young have a high mortality rate. Their population can't take the removal of adults. If it continues, the population will collapse."

The TPWD in May approved a "measure to prohibit the collection of wild turtles on public land", but even when it becomes law, will still allow collectors to snare "three varieties of turtles on private land; the red-eared slider, the common snapping turtle, and five types of soft-shell turtles".

Texas's largest exporter of turtles to Asia, Bob Popplewell, aka "BayouBob", said the proposed law won't affect his business since he gets 99 per cent of his harvest from private lakes. He claimed there are "plenty of turtles" in Texas, which bother ranchers by "overcrowding" their lakes and ponds and gorging on fish eggs and birds.

Popplewell elaborated: "People tell me they don't want one nasty, stinking turtle in their lake. I've seen a decent-sized snapper pull down a full-grown goose. They are trained, stealthy predators."

While Fitzgerald described the TPWD measure as "a step in the right direction", conservation groups want "a total ban on commercial turtle collection", Reuters notes. ®

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