The spiny freshwater turtle population is less than 1000 according to Canadian reports, but they found a windfall of dozens of the turtles recently. The problem is that they were dead and on a Chinese menu. Yet, the Chinese owner will face only a relatively small fine for this violation. In killing and sell these turtles for soup (and contributing to the possible loss of a species) the owner will face less of a penalty than a car theft or bad check.
The gruesome find was made at the Fortune Seafood Restaurant. Da Zhao Jian, owner of Fortune Seafood Restaurant on Midland Ave., had the soft-shell turtles on the menu for consumption. He was convicted of unlawful possession of the spiny softshell turtles under the Endangered Species Act and of listing a protected species for sale under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. However, these two charges only bring a $5000 fine each so he will walk with just a $10,000 fine. No jail time.
He has refused to tell people where he got the threatened turtles. That explains the lack of deterrent for the black market of turtles which are particularly valued by Chinese consumers.
We have discussed the loss of species and reduction of populations to feed the Chinese market. About 20 years ago, I was on a delegation to Taiwan and one of my areas of discussion was environmental protection. On the flight over to Taipei, our government sanctioned the Taiwan government for the sale of endangered species body parts in medicines and products. When I arrived, that is all the President and ministers wanted to discuss. They were quite angry and insisted that you could not buy such things as tiger bone on the island.
After days of denials, I decided to investigate the matter myself. I left the meeting early and got into a cab. The Justice minister had just denied that such products were openly sold in Taiwan so I asked the cab driver where I could buy tiger bone. He immediately said “Snake alley.” He offered to drive me that night and I accepted. After driving through the city that night, he walked me down a narrow alley with underaged girl prostitutes on either side behind thin curtains. It was horrible with some girls who looked as young as ten. We then emerged in Snake alley — so named because people often came to drink snake blood as an aphrodisiac. I watched as one large snake was killed and drained into a pint cup and given to a young man. The snake’s beating heart was placed on the table in front of him. He paid a wad of money and drank the blood and was served a snake soup. In addition to open sex acts on display, there was a wide array of endangered species body parts for sale from dozens of open tables. I bought a few and took them to the meeting the next day. I explained that it took me literally minutes to find a place to buy these. The minister looked shocked and then had an interesting response. Instead of again denying the availability of such products, he said that the Chinese culture is ancient and that he can personally attest that these ancient remedies work.
The preference for exotic animals in the Chinese market has deep cultural roots. I have been to China and spoken with environmentalists who have bravely fought not just the government but this cultural insensitivity of such issues. However, the Canadian case shows the continued disconnect between environmental crimes and other crimes. We still do not treat these violations as seriously as they warrant. When the low sanctions are put next to the strong cultural preferences, the result is inevitable. Even with only 1000 such turtles recorded by the government, selling these turtles is treated as little more than a cost of doing business by some.
What is particularly alarming is that there is no indication that the owner supplied information on the dealers or trappers of these turtles. He was just fined and sent on his way sans his hoard of dead threatened turtles.
Source: The Star