Leapfrog: States Respond to Threat of Turtle, Frog Trade
So many of the bad things that happen to animals occur below the radar screen of the American public, or even fairly well-informed animal advocates. When people learn of “canned hunts,” Internet hunting, or the other obscure forms of cruelty, they are often shocked that such things even occur in our day. People have long known about dogfighting, but after the Michael Vick case came to light, they were shocked by the prevalence of the activity in urban communities.
I think you’ll be shocked to know how many frogs and turtles are killed for human consumption, right here in the United States, or captured here and exported to Asia. It’s in the millions, and these hapless creatures are destined often for live animal markets in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and other major urban centers. Some native animals are unlucky enough to be shipped across the globe to be eaten in China.
Yesterday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to prohibit the importation of non-native turtles and frogs into the state for sale at live animal markets. It’s a practice that a determined number of advocates, including staff from The HSUS, have worked against for years. And yesterday was a great outcome, and another step in the process to halt this cruelty globally.
California imports roughly two million live American bullfrogs and hundreds of thousands of live turtles, mostly red-eared sliders and spiny soft shell turtles, for the live food markets in the state. They are captive bred or captured in Louisiana, Arkansas, and other states. Those not eaten are sometimes released into the wild, and if introduced, they can threaten native frogs and turtles by spreading disease, outcompeting them for resources, breeding with them and creating hybrids, and even preying upon the native species. Turtles and frogs imported for sale are shipped and held in extremely inhumane and cramped conditions, and countless animals die in the process.
Reptiles and amphibians can also carry salmonella that can be transmitted to humans and cause life threatening complications. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that reptiles and amphibians account for 74,000 cases of salmonella in the United States each year—6 percent of all salmonella cases, and an even higher percentage of cases in children. In addition, federal health regulations prohibit sales of small turtles (with shells less than four inches long) nationwide.
Just last year, at The HSUS’s urging, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recognized the urgent need to address this issue by passing a rule banning the commercial trapping and sale of freshwater turtles in Florida which ended the shipment of thousands of pounds of wild Florida turtles each week to overseas markets. In addition, the Commission previously prohibited the import, sale and possession as pets of red-eared sliders.
California’s victory was a long fought battle, spanning numerous years. Thanks to our friend Eric Mills of Action for Animals who persistently battled on the issue and pushed the California Fish and Game Commission year after year to take action. Many others worked on it as well, and our thanks go to them, too.
We must continue to build on this momentum.