Thousands of rare forest turtles have been rescued from horrifying conditions of captivity, saving the critically endangered animals from possible extinction, wildlife experts said on Wednesday.
More than 4,000 live freshwater turtles and 90 dead ones were found in a pond inside a remote warehouse in Palawan four weeks ago in one of the country’s biggest wildlife rescues, they said.
They included 3,831 Palawan forest turtles, a critically endangered species found only on the north of the large island, as well as 160 Asian leaf turtles and 25 Southeast Asian box turtles.
“The turtles were in terrible conditions,” said Sabine Schoppe, director of the Philippine Freshwater Turtle Con-servation Programme.
The reptiles had apparently been stored without food and water for up to six months, and veterinarians worked round the clock to save the animals, she said in a statement.
The turtles were apparently destined for pet and food markets in Hong Kong and China, the statement said.
Wildlife officials raided the warehouse on June 17 in the town of Bataraza, near the southern end of Palawan about 750 kilometers southwest of Manila.
The warehouse caretaker was questioned by police but not detained, said Jennifer Lyn Yap, member of the regu-lation and enforcement division of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, a government body tasked with protecting the island’s rich wildlife.
The owner remains at large.
The turtles were transferred by truck to a rescue center for critically endangered Philippine crocodiles in the pro-vincial capital Puerto Princesa, the only location on the island capable of housing such large numbers of rescued animals.