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New England Veterinarian Helps Save Illegally Captured Turtles in the Philippines

Some 3,800 illegally captured Palawan forest turtles were found in a warehouse in the Philippines last summer.
© Katala Foundation Inc.
Some 3,800 illegally captured Palawan forest turtles were found in a warehouse in the Philippines last summer.

In June of 2015, 3,800 endangered Palawan forest turtles were found stacked like cordwood in a warehouse in the Philippines – intended for turtle soup. Government officials raided the warehouse after someone gave them a tip about the illegal activity there.

The local expert on the Palawan forest turtle, Sabine Schoppe, was surprised to see such a large number in one place because it was thought that the entire population of the species was less than 3,800. That means that the illegal poaching operation was close to wiping out the species completely. 

Schoppe realized she was going to need help. She called on veterinarian Charlie Innis, the Director of Animal Health at New England Aquarium, as well as three other international veterinarians with turtle expertise. Innis flew to the Philippines immediately and started triaging turtles. The most common of the animals' injuries came from being stacked on top of one another. That included eye injuries and cuts on the feet, plus cuts on their shells. 

“It took us several days to sort through them all and determine which turtles were already dead and which turtles were likely to be successfully treated,” Innis says. 

After the first week, 1,000 turtles remained in care because of the severity of their injuries. 

A lot of the turtles we dealt with had full thickness dead tissue of their shells, Innis says.

"Where when we started surgically trying to manage the shells, entire sections of their shell was dead and had to be removed,” he says.

Innis says the turtles can regrow their shells. He says the veterinarians could treat the turtles as long as the injuries didn't reach the animals' internal organs.

After two weeks, Innis returned to Boston and another team of veterinarians came in. 

The most severely injured turtles stayed in care for two to three months before they were finally released. 

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