TODAY Online
23-24 July 2005

Turtle soup? Banned species in pet shops
AVA issues warning, importers say turtles looked like their cousins

Jasmine Yin   

They look a lot like the popular child's pet terrapin called red-eared sliders, but these baby turtles recently found being sold in pet stores here are of a different species ? one in danger of extinction.

Banned for sale in Singapore, the Chinese stripe-necked turtles had come mixed up in major aquarium stockist Qian Hu's overseas shipment of the more common red-eared sliders.

They were then distributed to some Serangoon North pet shops ? where they went on sale for between $3 and $8.

Not for long, though.

An undercover team from local animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) soon found that out, and its tip-off to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) led to a raid.

Altogether, 27 baby Chinese stripe-necked turtles and 19 baby soft-shelled turtles ? another endangered species ? were seized from Long Hu Pets Enterprise, Petmart and Rainbow Pets and Aquarium.

The turtles have been taken to the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum.

Qian Hu and the three pet shops have pleaded ignorance.

Long Hu's Mr Tony Tan told Today: "Qian Hu supplied to us the (stripe-necked) turtles. If the supplier says can sell, we sell."

Mr Bobby Lee, AVA's senior wildlife enforcement officer, said that Qian Hu had "admitted that it had unwittingly imported" some 40 heads of the baby Chinese stripe-necked turtles, which were mixed into its shipment of 2,000 baby red-eared sliders by its overseas supplier.

Said Qian Hu's managing director Kenny Yap: "It was our oversight and negligence ... It was quite impossible to differentiate them when they were put together."

The Chinese stripe-necked turtle has a long tail and thin black and yellow-green stripes on the sides of its head and throat, while the soft-shelled turtle has a double-barrelled proboscis for a nose and a soft shell.

Mr Yap added that the company's salesmen were unaware of the Chinese stripe-necked turtle's recent listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Qian Hu would seek to be better updated and to educate its suppliers in future, he said.

In light of both species' recent listings on Cites and the Chinese stripe-necked turtles' resemblance to the red-eared sliders, AVA has issued warning letters to Qian Hu and to the three pet shops, but will not take further enforcement action.

But Acres says it has reservations about the ignorance plea.

"The hard-shelled red-eared slider and the soft-shelled turtles, such as the stripe-necked turtle, cannot be mixed up. The distinction is very clear between the two species," said Mr Ng.

AVA, however, is standing by its position.

"It is difficult to tell the difference. This is our position. They can say what they want (Acres)," said Mr Lee. ? Additional reporting by Vinita Ramani