Chinese love of tortoise worries Lankans

A Sri Lankan tortoise

Sri Lankan environmentalists voice concern over the growing presence of Chinese nationals in the country and their liking for tortoise flesh.

Environmentalists say there is a high demand for tortoise flesh among the Chinese, and point to the number of incidents where Chinese nationals were caught with tortoises in their possession.

About a month ago, Narahenpita Police arrested a Chinese national at a restaurant with 14 Parker’s Terrapins in his possession. The owner of the restaurant had allegedly kept the tortoises in a storeroom adjoining the kitchen.

The suspect was released on bail and the tortoises were handed over to the National Zoological Gardens until the investigations are completed.
In a separate incident, Weligama Police arrested two people for transporting six soft-shelled terrapins (‘kiri ibba’) in a van, allegedly for slaughter. One of the suspects was a Chinese, according to the police.

In another incident, a Chinese national was caught with a star tortoise in his possession in Norochcholai.

The police post at the Norochcholai power plant later arrested two other Chinese nationals for having soft shelled terrapins and Parker’s terrapins in their possession.

One of the Chinese nationals was caught with a dead Parker’s terrapin, believed to have been killed for consumption, while the second Chinese had live tortoises in his possession.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, environment lawyer Jagath Gunewardene said the Parker’s terrapins, soft shelled terrapins and  star tortoises are protected under Section 30 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

According to him, the soft-shelled terrapin is endemic to Sri Lanka, and in the past this species was caught and killed for its flesh.

He explained that in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and the Puttalam area, people are known to consume tortoise flesh.

Naturalist Sameera Suranjan Karunaratne told ‘Ceylon Today’ the flesh of the soft shelled terrapin and the Parker’s terrapin was sold in the Thanamalwilla-Kataragama area some time ago.

“In those areas, people are paid to catch and sell these tortoises. In the Wanathawilluwa and Kalpitiya areas and around the Puttalam Lagoon, the soft shelled terrapins and Parker’s terrapins are killed for their flesh. Star tortoises are killed for its meat. Besides the Chinese, Sri Lankans also like to eat tortoise flesh,” Karunaratne said.

“Tortoise numbers in Sri Lanka have also declined due to them being captured and kept as pets in homes, thus preventing them from breeding in their natural habitats, destruction of their habitat and road accidents,” director of the Environment Conservation Trust Sajeewa Chamikara explained.


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