How could you eat a face like that? Via J.N. Stuart on Flickr
While reports tend to focus on elephant, rhino, and tiger trafficking, it's important to remember that the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade involves a wealth of other, lesser-known creatures. Turtles, which a prized for food and medicine, are one huge target of the trade, which is why you occasionally hear a story like this one: an Ontario-area Chinese restaurant was busted in 2010 with 31 spiny softshell turtles in its freezer, and was recently handed down C$10,000 in fines for offering the protected species on its menu.
The report comes via the Toronto Star, which notes that the spiny softshell turtle is disappearing from their freshwater habitats, and thus are protected under Canada's Endangered Species Act as well as its Fish and Wildlife Protection Act. Violation of each carries a C$5,000 fine. As is usually the case, the turtles are popular because they're thought to have medicinal benefits.
“It’s a delicacy that’s considered to have medicinal side benefits — kind of a part of healthy living,” Peter Paul Van Dijk, director of turtle conservation for Conservation International, told the Star. “It is a major factor in the decline of some species.”
As a whole, spiny softshells (Apalone spinifera) is listed as being of "least concern" by the IUCN, local populations are at risk, which is why it's listed as "threatened" on Ontario's Endangered Species Act, largely due to habitat loss and degradation, along with human consumption pressures. That's a refreshing amount of caution from our northern neighbors; here in the US, our Endangered Species Act is missing hundreds of species, many of which went extinct while the US government waffled on taking action.
It's important not to discount the trade's impact on turtles, either. It was great to see 47 new species of turtles and tortoises receive protection at the recent CITES conference, but the very reason many of those species need protection is because they've been eaten to near-extinction in many Asian countries. And it's key to remember that protection doesn't mean anything without enforcement. Props to Canada for protecting its reptiles, and taking the steps to follow through when people don't play ball.