Rescued giant turtles, endangered tortoises sent home to Malaysia

Channel NewsAsia 16 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: Four giant Asian turtles and two elongated tortoises, an endangered species, were repatriated to their home country Malaysia on Monday (Apr 16).

It is part of efforts by Singapore's Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) to rehabilitate animals which have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.

Last February, the animal welfare group repatriated its first live reptile, an endangered Malaysian giant turtle named Rahayu, to Malaysia.

"Since then, we promised ourselves to do everything we could to give a second chance for Rahayu's friends still residing in our sanctuary," ACRES wrote in a Facebook post.

"It took us another whole year, but today we are finally sending Boltz, Andrea, Audrey, Ayu, Comot and Comel home to Malaysia!"

Of the six reptiles, the story of Boltz the Giant Asian Pond turtle has been most widely shared by ACRES. He was rescued in 2011 after a member of the public saw him being run over by a lorry. The accident left him with severe injuries, including a crack on his shell that looked like a lightning bolt, hence his name.

"I still remember the first night he came, he was all bleeding, he had massive bleeding, his shell was completely fractured, and we didn’t think he will make it. So many other turtles we have rescued with a similar fate didn’t make it," said ACRES deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan, adding the Boltz' resilience helped it on the road to recovery.

Then there was Comot the elongated tortoise which was found two years ago walking along the road near the nature reserve at Seraya Crescent, and Audrey who was found in 2011 wandering around a bus stop.

The repatriation of the reptiles was documented on social media through a series of live videos and updates.

At about 4.30pm, ACRES posted that the animals had left Singapore, and at 9pm, it said that they had passed the borders and were in the clear to proceed.

Mr Kalai said the repatriation was very important not just for animals: "It is also a message to everyone out there that many of these animals which are smuggled in - they do deserve a second chance at life."

"In the wild there will be no enclosure to confine them, they will be able to roam free and wild … Being endangered and vulnerable as they are, they can now meet other animals of the same species and reproduce," he added.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, who attended the repatriation event, highlighted the importance of raising awareness on the illegal wildlife trade.

"Wildlife trade is not going to be stopped simply by us saying it should be stopped, or having legislation," the minister said. "I think it can only come about through education. Human beings are innately good people."

"We look at the story of Boltz and the other turtles here, it’s really heart-rending. People look at them – they are small and cute, (they) take them as pets - (it) shouldn’t be done."

Source: CNA/mz/(gs)

6 rescued turtles sent back to Malaysia by Acres
Esther Koh Straits Times 17 Apr 18;

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) sent six rescued reptiles back to Malaysia yesterday, the first time that it has done a mass repatriation.

It is part of Acres' efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and repatriate wild animals nabbed by illegal traders for their meat or to be sold as pets.

Yesterday's batch consisted of four giant Asian turtles, categorised as a vulnerable species, and two elongated tortoises, deemed an endangered species.

The first reptile to be successfully released back to the wild was Rahayu, a Malaysian giant turtle, in February last year.

Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan lamented that reptiles are preyed on by illegal traders on a large scale.

"For now, we are focusing on the repatriation of reptiles," he told The Straits Times.

Most of the six reptiles were found wandering in open spaces such as roads before they were rescued.

One of them, a giant Asian turtle named Boltz, was rescued in October 2011 after it had been run over by a truck. It suffered severe internal injuries as well as a large, lightning-shaped crack on its shell that inspired its name.

When Acres was set up in 2001, it focused on advocacy and educational work, raising public awareness on important animal protection issues that were previously unaddressed in Singapore. Its rehabilitation and repatriation efforts were a more recent development.

The construction of an animal shelter in Tengah was stalled in 2008 when the building contractor filled the site with contaminated earth and wood chips that rotted over time. Acres won its suit against A.N.A Contractor in 2015.

Despite the difficulties, Acres opened the Wildlife Rescue Centre in 2009 to begin the vital rehabilitation of rescued animals. In 2013, an outdoor sanctuary was built near the Acres office to house animals rescued from the illicit trades.

According to Mr Kalai, after Boltz was rescued seven years ago, it would look out of its cage longingly whenever it rained. This spurred Mr Kalai to build the outdoor sanctuary, which currently has about 160 wild animals.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who was present at yesterday's repatriation, said: "Small as we are, Singapore can make a difference (in wildlife conservation ) worldwide. At least within Singapore, we try and do the right things."

To this end, there have been improvements in terms of legislation and the public sector approach towards animal welfare.

Acres chief executive Louis Ng noted that his society had succeeded in getting the authorities to mete out stiffer penalties to illegal wildlife traders.

Those found guilty now face a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or two years' jail, on a per animal basis. Previously, they faced a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or a year's jail on a per species basis only.