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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 19, 2003 at 07:51:47:
CHARLOTTE OBSERVER (N Carolina) 19 April 03 Turtles trapped at record pace - With 23,311 taken from state, House moves to protect reptiles (Bruce Henderson)
Commercial trappers are snatching up thousands of North Carolina's turtles, so alarming wildlife officials that the N.C. House will consider special protection for the reptiles next week.
For now, collectors who pay $5 for a license can take all the turtles they want. They're doing just that, shipping most to Asian food markets.
In 2000, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission says, 460 turtles were removed from North Carolina. Last year, the take soared to 23,311.
That pace is a killing blow to species that aren't built to multiply fast, wildlife officials said.
Trappers "can go into a pond and pretty much wipe out every turtle in a couple of weeks," said Michael Dorcas, a Davidson College herpetologist.
Out-of-state collectors took 80 percent of the turtles last year, wildlife officials said. Most were sold to the Asian food industry and the pet trade. More than two tons of turtles are sold each day in China, the commission said.
All 12 commercial collectors have reapplied for licenses this year, the wildlife agency says.
Freshwater turtles reproduce slowly. They don't bear young for seven to 15 years, and then only a few each year. Most babies won't survive.
"If you start eliminating the adults, the population starts declining very quickly," Dorcas said.
Collectors for the food trade go after the largest turtles that are also the best reproducers.
The House bill lets Wildlife Resources limit the capture of reptiles and amphibians that are not endangered. It specifically prevents commercial trappers from taking more than four basking or sliding turtles, the coastal-plain species most often targeted.
The House Wildlife Resources Committee endorsed the bill Wednesday. It's expected to go before the full House next week.
The bill won't keep amateurs from taking an occasional turtle or impede research scientists, said Richard Hamilton, the commission's chief deputy director.
A third of the state's 21 turtles species are in jeopardy from collectors and habitat loss, the wildlife commission said. Box turtles and snapping turtles, common in the Charlotte region, are also collected commercially.
"By protecting vulnerable species as soon as a problem is detected, we can avoid the difficulty of listing the animal as an endangered species," Hamilton said. Listings can take years because of detailed studies and public comment periods.
The state listed four less loveable creatures, venomous snakes including the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake and the coral snake, as endangered in 2000. By then, both the diamondback and the coral snake had almost vanished from the state.
Learn more about the Central Carolina Amphibian and Reptile Initiative, and its April 26 Reptile Day at Davidson College, at www.ccari.org.