Spanish Police Shut Down ‘Biggest Illegal Turtle Farm in Europe’

Spanish police have seized more than 1,100 turtles and tortoises from what they say was Europe’s biggest illegal turtle farm.

Two German men were arrested in connection with operating the farm on the island of Majorca, along with the Spanish owner of an exotic pet store in Barcelona, who police say was selling the animals from the farm.

“Officers searched the farm and found that it was much bigger than expected and its aim was to breed at an industrial level different species of sea and land turtles,” police said in a statement.

One of the turtles at the Spanish farm
One of the turtles at the farm in Majorca that was raided by Spanish police on Aug. 22, 2018. (Guardia Civil)

The turtles and tortoises that were seized, along with 750 eggs, were from 62 species, including 14 of the world’s most endangered.

Among those seized were various types of box turtles—regarded as critically endangered—Vietnamese pond turtles, Kleinmann’s tortoises, and radiated tortoises.

Most turtle species are endangered but are still killed for their meat, skin, and shells, with their eggs being considered a delicacy in some parts of the world.

There are many turtle farms around the world, with the highest concentration being found in China, according to a 2007 study.

In China, softshell turtles are used for food, with other breeds being used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Majorca investigation began in Feb. 2017 when police seized several turtles that are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in a shipment at Palma de Mallorca Airport.

From there, they tracked down two German citizens at a property in Majorca and discovered the farm.

The owner of the exotic pet shop in Barcelona acted as a kind of “laundering” service for the turtles, keeping them in various pools at a rural farm that was described by authorities as being in “poor condition.”

NTD Photo
A policeman inspects one of the turtles at the farm in Majorca that was raided by Spanish police on Aug. 22, 2018. (Guardia Civil)

Captive breeding, when conducted ethically, can contribute to the preservation of wild populations, says wildlife trade NGO TRAFFIC.

But illegally traded wildlife such as turtles and tortoises can threaten the balance of nature, according to the WWF. They are often introduced to areas they are not native to and compete with local species.

Sea turtles have existed on Earth for around 100 million years and are a “fundamental link in marine ecosystems” in maintaining the health of coral reefs and seagrass beds, says the WWF. However, turtle shells are a highly sought after commodity throughout the tropics and East Asia, fueling a lucrative black market.

“Asia’s illegal turtle trade has occurred at such a scale and pace that turtles have now become one of the world’s most threatened groups of animals,” said TRAFFIC in a statement to accompany a 2017 report on black spotted turtle seizures.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, added, “Enforcement actions must be scaled up. Otherwise, it is unlikely wild populations can take the strain, while criminals continue to profit from crime.”

From The Epoch Times