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Taiwan to set up island's 1st turtle sanctuary.

TAIPEI, Oct. 17 Kyodo

Taiwan is set to open its first turtle sanctuary in the central part of the island next month, authorities said Thursday.

The Forestry Bureau said it has decided to set up the sanctuary to protect rare turtles and other species at the Feitsui Reservoir near the capital Taipei. If all goes smoothly, it is scheduled to be open as early as next month.

The planned sanctuary, around 1,300 hectares in size, is home to more than 400 animal species, including 30 endangered amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds, the bureau said.

The move follows the seizure of 2,626 endangered turtles that were being smuggled to China in August, presumably to be consumed as food or traditional medicine or to be sold or re-exported as pets.

The 1,446 yellow-margined box turtles and 1,180 Asian yellow pond turtles -- both of which are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on its red list of endangered species -- were found inside a container on a vessel in the southern port of Kaohsiung.

While some were found to have died or severely dehydrated, Wu Sheng-hai, a life sciences professor of National Chung Hsing University, told Kyodo News they are in good condition under his care.

After the turtle sanctuary opens next month, Wu said he might consider releasing them to the wild there, but there are other options available, as long as the habitats are forested areas below 1,000 meters in altitude.

Wu, however, declined to reveal the potential locations, fearing it might encourage poachers.

The mainland China population of the yellow-margined box turtle, a terrestrial species, is considered critically endangered due to habitat loss and over-collection, while the Taiwanese population has also declined in recent decades due to expansion of agricultural lands and illegal collecting.

The same species of box turtle is also found on Japan's southern islands of Iriomote and Ishigaki where they are listed as vulnerable, but are relatively well protected.

Wu said while one could find over 100 of these protected creatures in mountainous areas some 50 years ago on any given day, nowadays it would be less than five if one searched hard enough for them.

He welcomed the establishment of the sanctuary, but said the crux of the problem lies in lenient punishments for poachers and lack of conservation awareness among the general public.

"It takes only a few people to do great damage," he said. "And once they (threatened species) are gone, it's very difficult to get them back."
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9TAIW
Date:Oct 21, 2013
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