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State to ban importing of non-native turtles, frogs for food

March 4, 2010 | 11:06 am

Animal welfare advocates won a long sought victory Wednesday when the California Fish and Game Commission approved a ban on imports of non-native turtles and frogs for food markets.

“It’s only taken us 16 years,” said Susan Tellem, co-founder of the nonprofit American Tortoise Rescue.

The Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to order the Department of Fish and Game to stop issuing permits allowing the importation of non-native turtles and frogs for food.

Animal welfare advocates have long argued that food markets, often in Asian communities, kept the live animals in horrible conditions. “The turtles are upside down in the sun, no food, no water,” Tellem said. “They are slaughtered inhumanely.”

Sometimes people cook them live. “They’ll put the turtles in a frying pan, and they die very slowly,” Tellem said.

Tellem said animal-welfare arguments in the past had not convinced the commissioners to ban the importation of what she says are an estimated 2 million bullfrogs and 300,000 red-eared sliders coming into the state each year. This time, the advocates contended there were safety and environmental reasons to stop sales.

“We ended up changing our argument and saying they are non-native animals being released into the wild and they’re killing our native pond turtles,” she said.

People often buy the live animals to save them from death, she said, then release them into ponds and oceans where they are not indigenous and they either die or eat other species. Ravenous bullfrogs, she said, scarf up turtle eggs and baby turtles.

“Our prime motivation was a concern for the impact of such exotic animals on our native wildlife species,” Commissioner Michael Sutton said Wednesday.

The new ban on permits does not apply to imports for the pet trade.

-- Carla Hall

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