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Herps In The News Local or national articles where reptiles or amphibians have made it into the news media. Please cite sources.

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Old 08-03-2006, 12:02 AM   #1
Clay Davenport
Alabama State wildlife agent targets black market for turtles on Internet

ANNISTON, Ala. - Box turtles are known for their lethargic pace and tough shells. But lately the Alabama-native reptiles are becoming a fast-moving commodity on an illegal black market. Experts say the animals are going to need more than shells to protect themselves from unlawful turtle-catchers.

Lt. Michael Bloxom is an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division officer who is designated to help them.

He spends part of every work day looking for turtles, deer, snakes and other Alabama animals for sale on the Internet.

Recently, his efforts paid off, leading to the arrest of two couples in Wedowee.

According to Randolph County Assistant District Attorney Amy Newsome, Porsha and Wayne Price and Daniel and Rebecca Smith of Wedowee were arrested and convicted of possessing protected animals for sale earlier in July.

Police say the four had been selling endangered eastern box turtles online and mailing them to buyers around the country and possibly abroad.

The two couples had no connection to each other that police can find and claimed they did not know selling the turtles is illegal.

All four spent a short time in jail before being released to 24 months of probation, paying $100 fines and forfeiting money they earned in the sales.

The two Wedowee couples are not the only people involved in the illegal capture and sale of turtles in Alabama.

Bloxom said eastern box turtles mostly are being sold as pets at flea markets or shipped to "turtle farms" in Louisiana and Arkansas.

Farmers who want to breed the reptiles pick up other turtles.

Some farmers breed turtles to sell the eggs or hatchlings as pets, Bloxom said.

Others breed the turtles for food.

In Louisiana and parts of Asia, Bloxom said, farmers inject the turtles with hormones and slaughter them like chickens every year. Turtles are a traditional source of meat in Cajun cuisine.

"Within a year they've got an eating-sized turtle," Bloxom said.

For the farmers, capturing turtles in the wild makes economic sense.

"When you want to start a turtle farm, where do you start?" Bloxom asked. "You can get these little hatchlings and wait five or 10 years for them to mature or go into the wild and catch some breeding-sized turtles."

But turtle catching can create a strain on the environment, especially when the turtles are endangered like the box turtles, which have been on the federal endangered species list since 1973.

Bloxom said that in the late 1990s the number of turtles in Weiss Lake declined dramatically because of turtle-catchers.

Turtle populations haven't recovered, Bloxom said.

State lawmakers set a catch limit of 10 turtles per day after seeing the declining numbers in Weiss Lake.

Turtles can provide an important part of the ecosystems where they live, eating insects and decaying organic material, said Kevin Jenne, a biologist at the Anniston Museum of Natural History.

"They're another link in the food chain," he said. "If you get rid of them, there may be too many worms here or too many bugs there."

Said Bloxom: "Just think if everyone thought 'Hey I can get on the computer and make a hundred bucks a turtle.' There wouldn't be any turtles left."

Jenne said the reptile trade took off in the 1990s and has not slowed since.

Snakes and lizards have been imported into the U.S. from all over the world, leaving other areas with greatly reduced numbers of indigenous animals.

"If something becomes a fad, some local will say 'Hey I can make some money off of this' and go catch and sell native animals," Jenne said.

Turtle catchers typically bait partially submerged boxes or small, round fishing nets with dead fish and collect the turtles.

Once the turtles are caught, they usually are placed in burlap sacks with 30 or 40 other turtles and put on trucks to be hauled as far away as Arkansas.

"When you get them in there in June or July, it becomes like an oven in there for them," Bloxom said.

Box turtles first were placed on the federal list of endangered species in 1973 because the numbers of young turtles being found was lower than expected. Since turtles often live much longer than humans, the plentiful numbers of adults still may be seen in 20 years.

But when that generation dies out, biologists like Jenne fear the younger turtles may not be able to replace them.

All turtles have a "4-inch rule," Jenne said.

Turtles whose shells are less than 4 inches around cannot be bought or sold. This is to protect turtles that have not reached sexual maturity, Jenne added.

Bloxom said box turtles are not the first species in Alabama that the demands of the retail market have threatened.

In the 1990s freshwater mussels, which can be used for the production of cultured pearls and paddlefish, sought for their caviar, were in such high demand that laws were passed to keep the species from being wiped out.

Recently, Bloxom and his agents have learned of truckloads of bullfrogs and crawfish being shipped out of the state.

"That's not illegal, but it's our job to find out if that is going to cause a problem," he said.

Even deer have become a popular export for some traffickers.

People in neighboring states will pay good money for live deer to stock their hunting reserves, Bloxom said.

"We may be worrying about turtles today and deer tomorrow," he said.

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Old 08-03-2006, 12:34 AM   #2
Dennis Hultman
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clay Davenport
Lt. Michael Bloxom is an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division officer who is designated to help them.

He spends part of every work day looking for turtles, deer, snakes and other Alabama animals for sale on the Internet.

Recently, his efforts paid off, leading to the arrest of two couples in Wedowee.
Clay, first I would like to thank you for keeping up with the headlines and making this forum such a success.
I would like to make comment here, a little narrow in scope but it’s something I have been pondering lately.

I have taken some flack (sometimes offline) about my continual posts in regards to illegal activity such as selling protected species, shipping illegally, etc. The most common response is “ nothing will come of it”
“It’s worth the risk” etc, etc. I remember a turtle seller that I had got into a bid of a rough conversation with sometime ago. He stated it was none of my business or anyone else’s what he does. Most don’t believe or choose to ignore that they are being watched. Hopefully, articles like this will serve as a wake-up call that you could get that knock on the door. Anyone believing what they do when it comes to illegal activity in this business doesn’t have consequences for everyone is strongly mistaken. More laws are past that restrict responsible keepers.
 
Old 08-03-2006, 12:59 AM   #3
Clay Davenport
You're exactly right Dennis. EVERY classified site featuring exotic animal sales is monitored by the authorities at some level. Sites like this one and k.com are monitored daily I have no doubt.
I even see ads that I am almost sure are placed there by the wildlife guys. I've seen one wanted ad last year on k.com from a guy in NC looking for red pygmy rattlers. Being protected in this state, it was either a trap, or a moron asking to get busted.

If you try to sell protected or otherwise illegal animals publicly on the internet, it's just a matter of time. A F&W agent will contact you to set up a buy.
I also believe that regardless of the "know your laws" clause some sellers use, if they ship an animal to a state where they are not legal they would likely be held legally responsible for that as well.

Despite whay they think, it is our business if they are selling illegal species or shipping illegally. Their actions affect us. The black market dealing with illegal herps makes us all look bad. Even we as just breeders are cast in a darker light due to the activity of the few that trade in illegal species.
As far as I'm concerned, if someone approached me wanting to sell me sometihng I know was illegal, I would have no problem working with the authorities to bust the guy. To me it's merely preserving something I enjoy, that he is endangering by his greedy actions.
There's a lot of things I wish I could keep, but the fact is I can't legally, and I have too much at risk to attempt it.
 
Old 08-11-2006, 07:53 AM   #4
kmurphy
Quote:
As far as I'm concerned, if someone approached me wanting to sell me sometihng I know was illegal, I would have no problem working with the authorities to bust the guy. To me it's merely preserving something I enjoy, that he is endangering by his greedy actions.
I agree. The first thing they try to do is attach you as being some kind of environmental wacko. Like it is the one's that do things legally that are wrong.
Back to the article. They set the turtle(water) limit at 10 turtles a day. You could still take a lot of turtles legally.
 
Old 12-07-2006, 12:56 PM   #5
elect
Waste Of Time!!!

This country by each new election falls deeper to the dogs! You guys have nothing better to do then to talk about what you can and can not own.
What a joke and Dennis wow, LOL if some one came to me with illegal stuff i would have no problem turning him in (SNITCH) you are the lowest forms of life!!! When you guys aren’t out harassing people for fishing licenses you decide to bother the reptile trade. Hmmm makes me wonder. And you had the nerve to mention you bug our American hard working farmers with this petty stuff. God put animals here for are benefit, weather it be for pets or food or to wear as coats. How Dare You Take Up Readers Time With This Junk!!! Well anyways you guys keep writing your fairy tails and make people think you are the good guys (which is a joke).
Have a great day in LaLa land…..
 
Old 12-07-2006, 03:31 PM   #6
kmurphy
Quote:
This country by each new election falls deeper to the dogs! You guys have nothing better to do then to talk about what you can and can not own.
What a joke and Dennis wow, LOL if some one came to me with illegal stuff i would have no problem turning him in (SNITCH) you are the lowest forms of life!!! When you guys aren’t out harassing people for fishing licenses you decide to bother the reptile trade. Hmmm makes me wonder. And you had the nerve to mention you bug our American hard working farmers with this petty stuff. God put animals here for are benefit, weather it be for pets or food or to wear as coats. How Dare You Take Up Readers Time With This Junk!!! Well anyways you guys keep writing your fairy tails and make people think you are the good guys (which is a joke).
Have a great day in LaLa land…..
Maybe you should enlighten us Tommy Boy. What makes a good guy. I'll even get you started - A no good lying ass scum sucking poacher -okay you finish it.
 

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