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A Humane Vote for Turtles

The Humane Society of the United States

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took a strong step April 15, 2009, toward protecting the state’s wild freshwater turtles from voracious hunters who snag them by the hundreds to feed growing world markets for turtle meat and body parts.

The commission voted unanimously for a draft rule that would ban commercial hunting and sale of wild freshwater turtles. The commission will vote on a final rule in June.

The commission’s strong action came after considerable public outcry about the wild turtle hunt, including calls and emails from members of The Humane Society of the United States. Gov. Charlie Crist led the charge in November 2008, when he wrote a letter to the commissioners, asking for a ban to protect the turtles.

Before they voted, several commissioners invoked the need to protect Florida’s turtles, and one said the turtle hunting would avert the kind of disaster that occurred when American Bison were hunted to near-extinction.

A wildlife commission staff report noted: “The foreign market for freshwater turtles appears to be insatiable."

“With this regulation, Florida's turtles will have protection that is critical to their recovery from the intensive trapping that has occurred in recent years,” said Laura Bevan, The HSUS' Eastern Regional Director. “While the proposed rule is a big step forward to conserve Florida's resources, it leaves loopholes, such as allowing turtles to be removed from the wild for breeding stock, that we hope will be reconsidered.”

“Experts warn that turtle populations cannot sustain commercial take,” Bevan said. “It is vital that a complete ban be enacted as soon as possible to end the shipment of thousands of pounds of live Florida turtles each week to overseas markets to fulfill a demand that has already decimated wild turtle populations in many parts of the world.”