Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
October 30, 2000
Prof develops technology to stop illegal turtle trade
The illegal pet trade is threatening Ontario's endangered wood turtle, says a University of Guelph researcher working to help catch and prosecute turtle smugglers.
Prof. Ron Brooks, Department of Zoology, is using microchip technology to identify turtles in Algonquin Park (one of three places known to be home to Ontario's remaining wood turtle populations). Microchips could cut down on illegal traffic by pinpointing a smuggled turtle's origins, said Brooks, who has been studying Ontario's wood turtle populations since 1987. "Overall, there's no group of animals that is in more danger than turtles. If you have an attractive animal with good characteristics, it makes them especially vulnerable."
Wood turtles have always been at risk from loss of habitat, highway construction, and natural predation. But now, their popularity as pets, medicine, aphrodisiacs, and food (particularly in Asia) is further threatening their survival. Wood turtles are listed as being an endangered species in Ontario and a vulnerable species in Canada. Of 10 turtle species in Canada, eight are either endangered or extirpated.
At nest sites in Algonquin Park, Brooks and graduate student Kim Smith are implanting a small microchip containing a 10-digit identification number on each turtle's hind legs. Currently, the microchips are used as a substitute for banding, but they could also be used to stop illegal traffic, Brooks said. For example, in the future, when a shipment of turtles is seized, the microchips could be scanned and the turtle's origins could be identified. The smuggler could then be punished according to the laws of the region from which the turtle was stolen. As an indictable offence, illegal exporting of wood turtles from Ontario is subject to fines up to a maximum of $300,000 and jail terms up to five years.
A large proportion of the southwestern Ontario population of wood turtles was removed virtually overnight in 1994, presumably abducted to be sent overseas for sale as pets. An estimated 100 turtles remain in this population, which once numbered approximately 350. Only about 50 turtles have been observed in the Northwest Ontario population. The Algonquin population, the healthiest in Ontario, consists of about 500 turtles.
The research is sponsored by Ontario Parks, the Algonquin Forest Authority, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Canada Trust.
Contact: Prof. Ron Brooks Department of Zoology (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3944 firstname.lastname@example.org
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