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Rare turtle mistaken for road blemish found hurt near Botanic Gardens

SINGAPORE -- Driving down Tyersall Avenue behind the Botanic Gardens last month, Mrs. Catherine Jones spotted a large lump in the road.

It was a large turtle nearly half-a-meter wide, with a cracked shell.

The homemaker, 46, took it to an animal hospital, which referred her to the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society's (Acres) Wildlife Rescue Center.

To their astonishment, Acres staff found it was a rare wattle-necked softshell turtle, native not to Singapore but to China.

In other words, it was also likely an illegal alien.

The only two reptiles allowed as pets here are the red-eared slider turtle and Malayan box turtle.

“Honestly, we have no clue how she ended up there,” said rescue center director Anbarasi Boopal of the adult female turtle, adding that it was difficult to tell its exact age.

The turtle was given medical treatment but died shortly after from its injuries.

Reptiles are among the most commonly-sold illegal creatures in the pet and food trades here in Singapore; they make up 40 percent of enforcement cases involving live wildlife, said a spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

In the last five years, AVA has confiscated more than 150 snakes, lizards, tortoises and turtles.

In a 2005 investigation into the illegal reptile trade, Acres found that one in five of the 100 shops surveyed was found to be selling illegal reptiles, including turtles, at prices from SG$2.50 to SG$80.

Acres' rescue center and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) both have non-native reptiles confiscated from black-market sellers, or that were found abandoned.

The Acres center has 30 or so star tortoises, native to India and coveted for the ornate star-like shell pattern that gives them their name; it also has non-native species such as green iguanas and pig-nosed turtles — both are popular, but illegal, exotic pets.

Under Singapore's Endangered Species Act, anyone caught importing, exporting, re-exporting or possessing any species scheduled in the Act without a permit can get in trouble with the law.

They may be fined up to SG$50,000 for each species, with a cap of SG$500,000, and/or jailed for up to two years.

AVA said such species are prohibited because non-native animals may not survive escape or abandonment, or may disrupt the native ecosystem.

“They may potentially be invasive and compete with the native ones for food or habitat if they are released or escape into the wild,” said an AVA spokesman.

The wattle-necked softshell turtle found by Mrs. Jones is a case in point.

Although the turtles are threatened in their native China, they are thriving as an invasive species in Mauritius and some Hawaiian islands.

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