Illegally-Imported Land Turtles Discovered In CNMI
By Clarissa V. David
SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 27, 2012) – With an ongoing investigation involving a recent report of turtles being sold at a local store, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ Division of Fish & Wildlife stressed the importance of having a vigilant public report similar incidents.
Aquatic education specialist Richard B. Seman said in an interview yesterday that Secretary Arnold I. Palacios of the Department of Land and Natural Resources received a call regarding the matter on Nov. 21 and immediately referred it to the Enforcement Division.
The female caller, who saw the turtles at the store at about 2pm, posted what she saw on Facebook and instantly elicited responses encouraging her to report it to the authorities.
"I heard before that it was illegal to catch or eat turtles but I'm not sure. And seeing them in a store for sale made me think maybe it's legal. That's why I did the Facebook posting," she said in an email response.
Seman said their personnel responded by going to the store and discovered, upon inspection, 11 land turtles-not sea turtles-and other species that should not have been imported to the Northern Marianas in the first place that were being sold by a male Chinese who imported the animals from China.
There have been previous cases when these land turtles are brought in as pets but this is not allowed, according to Seman who disclosed that the same man had a shipment of live shrimp that was confiscated by quarantine officers at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport on Nov. 3.
Seman noted that the man did not know that land turtles are not allowed for importation to the CNMI.
"But ignorance is not an excuse," he told Saipan Tribune. "Unfortunately, he lost all his products. All of them were confiscated and frozen and will be discarded soon."
Seman said there are individuals in the Commonwealth who import live species but before doing so, they visit the Division of Fish & Wildlife to submit a request. He said their office responds back by informing the requester what can and cannot be brought in and other corresponding regulations.
Seman, who will serve officially at the division until January before he takes on his new role as lawmaker, said investigation of last week's incident is still ongoing.
"We'll get to the bottom of this," he said, adding that the male Chinese involved is "very cooperative and learning along the way."
Seman said the division has a continuous education and outreach program that raises awareness and emphasizes the need for the public to report any irregularities that they see involving the islands' marine and wildlife resources.
He encouraged those who have plans to import to consult their office first to avoid wasting their time, money, and other resources.
"It is very critical that we do not allow any non-endemic species from entering our islands because some of them may have natural enemies or predators that may end up replacing our endemic species. By then, we're going to have problems with our ecosystem," added Seman.
For any reports, call the Division of Fish & Wildlife enforcement section at 664-6000 or 989-6093.
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