The Pope is asked to help save sea turtles
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2002:
LOS ANGELES, HONG KONG –The Sea Turtle Conservation Network
of the Californias on March 13, 2002 appealed to Pope John Paul II
to clarify to Roman Catholics that sea turtles are not “fish,” and
should not be poached and eaten at Lent.
Mexican poachers alone kill as many as 5,000 endangered sea
turtles a year during Lent, Wildcoast founder Serge Dedina said at a
Los Angeles press conference, out of an estimated annual toll of
35,000 turtles poached. Seconding Dedina was Homero Aridjis,
founder of the Mexican environmental protection organization Grupo de
Aridjis and Dedina, best known for research on grey whales,
previously teamed up in a successful decade-long struggle to keep
Mitsubishi and the Mexican government from jointly developing a salt
works in San Ignacio Lagoon, along the Baja California coast.
“If the Pope were to ban turtle meat, we would support it,
but we cannot make it mandatory,” Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los
Angeles spokesperson Ana Maria Castro told Robert Jablon of
There was no sign that the appeal on behalf of sea turtles
reached the Pope.
The most recent official Vatican position on an animal issue,
issued in September 2001, approved the use of animal organ
transplants into human beings in order to save human life.
This was consistent with previous Vatican statements, but
under Pope John Paul II the Vatican has also often indicated concern
for animal suffering.
In December 2000, for instance, as the declaration on organ
transplants was in preparation, Belgian theologian Marie Hendrickx
hinted at the content in the semi-official Vatican newspaper
L’Osservatore Romano, but denounced bullfighting and other forms of
ritual animal abuse sometimes associated with Catholic festivals,
and went on to criticize factory farming and fur trapping.
Sea turtle poaching at Lent is also common in the
Philippines. In nearby Bali, however, sea turtle poaching is
associated mostly with Hindu rituals–although most Hindus in India
do not eat turtles of any kind.
Otherwise, the major market for poached sea turtles is in
One of the biggest related seizures yet came on February 1,
when Philippine authorities arrested 95 Chinese citizens and nine
Filipinos aboard four alleged poaching vessels registered to Hainan,
Caught off Cagayancillo, within the Tubbataha Reef National
Marine Park, the vessels were carrying 54 sea turtles, 200 giant
clams, 10 sacks of dried sea cucumber, 10 fan corals, and 13 live
mameng, a protected fish species, along with explosives used to
blow coral reefs apart and kill or stun fish.
China also leads the world in illegal imports of freshwater
and land turtles–and snakes. On March 19 Yunnan Province officials
caught an alleged smuggler named Gu Dengyun hauling nearly three tons
of snakes, the Xinua News Agency disclosed. Eight days earlier,
Hong Kong police and customs officers seized 9,000 turtles from two
mainland Chinese fishing boats.
On December 11, 2001, Hong Kong authorities seized 7,500
turtles in a very similar case. The turtles each time were
apparently caught in Malaysia, then flown from Bangkok to Hong Kong,
after which but the buyers allegedly tried to smuggle them into
mainland China to evade import duties.
Several March 2001 raids on the notorious Qing Ping wildlife
market in Guangzhou, China, reduced it in size, but illegal
trafficking and cruelty is still easily seen. “A recent visit found
leopard cats, giant turtles, masked palm civets, and king cobras
for sale, along with barking deer, wild boars, and porcupines,”
said Associated Press in mid-February.
The China Wildlife Conservation Association on January 29
gathered 180 restaurant cooks in Shanghai to announce a campaign to
dissuade the estimated eight million cooks across China from serving
endangered species, and to enlist them as eyes and ears against
poaching. Recent regulatory changes have shifted responsibility for
serving and eating rare animals from cooks to consumers, who
typically pay premium prices to induce cooks to procure protected
Snakes are also illegally eaten in Thailand and Cambodia.
Alleged Thai snake smuggler Rangsit Moomsam, 34, was reportedly
arrested on January 16 in possession of 3,000 snakes he was taking by
truck to restaurants. Moomsam’s older sister was charged with
bribery for trying to buy his freedom.
Cambodian officials meanwhile returned to the wild half a
ton of turtles, snakes, monkeys, and birds seized in Phom
Penh–but the alleged traffickers were not charged, as Cambodia
lacks applicable laws.