2017.09.07 A noteworthy time for turtles the world over


As a former turtle owner, I’m always ready to read an interesting story concerning the reptile. Lately, they’ve been popping up in news from near and far.

 Close to home, a Canadian man who attempted to smuggle thousands of turtles purchased in Michigan to his native China was sentenced to nearly five years in prison. It’s not illegal to purchase them from breeders in this country, but his crime was shipping them overseas without the required federal permit.

The 27-year-old suspect, Kai Xu, shipped turtles to China and hired others to carry them in their luggage. He was caught at the Canadian border carrying 51 turtles in his pants. His attorney called that “not a good way to get them across the border.” Really? Not surprisingly, the judge agreed.

In Bangkok, Thailand, a very ill green sea turtle is making a slow recovery after a difficult, but life-saving operation. Bank, a 25-year-old female, was rescued by the Thai navy earlier this year from a fountain in Sri Racha.

A series of 3D scans showed she was full of coins. Residents and visitors like to toss coins in the fountain, thinking that doing so would bring them good luck. But it was bad luck for Bank. Not knowing any better, she would sometimes eat the “contributions.”

Eventually, a mass of coins stuck in her digestive tract, cracked her shell and gave her a life-threatening infection. During a four hour operation, surgeons removed 11 pounds of money, totaling 915 coins from several countries. Some coins could not be removed. Doctors hope Bank can get rid of them the old-fashioned way.

She’s not back to normal yet, as doctors are concerned about the surgical scar getting infected, as well as possible problems with mobility after being out of water for an extended period. Get well soon, Bank, and watch your diet.

In Brazil, scientists have discovered that one species of turtle uses several different vocal sounds to communicate with others knowing the “language.” South American river turtles, which can grow to three feet in length, exhibit social behavior that is “much more complex than previously thought,” according to one researcher.

The turtles usually make low frequency sounds while on the move, such as when migrating. While nesting, higher frequency communications are used, perhaps because they travel better in shallow water. Babies even make noises before hatching.

Females also vocalize in reply to sounds from their babies, possibly to guide them into the water. This finding is the first known example of turtle parental care. Hatchlings in this species stay with their mothers about two months.

Brazil is also the location of an amazing story from a few years back. It features Manuela, a red-footed tortoise, who disappeared back in 1982 while the Almeida home in Realengo was being renovated. It was assumed that she had slipped away while construction workers left a fence gate open.

When Leonel Almeida passed away in 2013, his children gathered together to clean out the homestead. Leonel had kept a huge accumulation of assorted junk he had rescued from dumpsters in a storage room. When one son was carrying a box of mostly broken records out of the house, a neighbor looked inside and asked if he was going to throw away the tortoise, too.

Inside the box was a red-footed tortoise, assumed to be the now-grown Manuela. Apparently, she had survived by eating termites living in wooden furniture in the storage room, plus whatever insects and slow-moving food presented itself. I hope they gave her a head of lettuce as soon as possible. She went a long time without a salad.

Finally, I’ve never had any great desire to travel overseas, at least not until I heard about a park called the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum in Singapore. The park is home to several hundred turtles and tortoises from over 60 different species. 

The best part is that all inhabitants are allowed to roam freely around the park and visitors can purchase veggies on site to feed the residents in a “petting corner,” although they probably should watch their fingers. Among featured turtles is the mata mata, which is said to permanently smile. Does that sound like the world’s best park, or what?