Virginia furthers efforts to combat illegal turtle trade

This article was reprinted with permission from Virginia Mercury

A basking Red-eared Slider Turtle photographed on Walney Pond, Ellanor C Lawrence Park, Fairfax County, Virginia.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/DavidByronKeener)

Virginia is furthering efforts to combat the illegal reptile and amphibian trade in the commonwealth through a resolution recently passed by the Board of Wildlife Resources.

The resolution mainly prioritizes the protection of Virginia’s native turtle species — considered one of the most vulnerable groups of vertebrates worldwide — which face significant threats and population decline due to unsustainable poaching.

According to the resolution, the Department of Wildlife Resources’ Special Operations Unit investigating the illegal commercialization of reptiles and amphibians uncovered violations involving approximately 750 animals, including 650 turtles. The animals’ potential value in the U.S. market is $35,000, or $155,000 in overseas markets.

The resolution now directs the department to explore additional measures and take action to address the illegal trade, with turtles being a main priority. The directives include establishing replacement costs for native reptiles and amphibians, creating a facility for holding species prior to a case being brought to court and drafting a plan for illegally removed species to return back to the wild.

Other actions include the creation of four special agent positions in the DWR’s Special Operations Unit, training staffers on the illegal trade of the species, designing a campaign to increase public awareness and exploring state code to better leverage penalties for those convicted of illegal trafficking.

“Illegal trade of wildlife is the fourth largest source of illegal trade internationally. Many of the commonly involved species are Virginia’s most vulnerable and most difficult to restore,” said DWR Executive Director Ryan Brown in an email. “Today’s Board action emphasizes the seriousness with which the Department takes this issue and our commitment to protect our resources.”

The DWR is also a member of the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles, whose mission is to advance efforts to better understand, prevent and eliminate the illegal collection and trade of North America’s native turtles. Composed mostly of state, federal and tribal agency personnel, the Collaborative prioritizes building bridges between the law enforcement and biological communities to address the problem.

The Board unanimously adopted the resolution.

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