He Biodiversity Preservation Center in Akwa Ibom state, south-south Nigeria, he rescued a baby turtle, the green sea turtle, from local fishermen who wanted to sell the poor animal for bushmeat.
This comes about six months after two turtles were rescued in the state and delivered to the rehab center.
edem eniangwildlife professor and director of the center, showed the last rescued turtle to PREMIUM TIMES, on Sunday afternoon, in the center of Uyo.
The fishermen, who caught the turtle some three days earlier as bycatch in the Cross River, a major river in south-southern Nigeria, were negotiating with potential buyers when someone in a community in Itu Local Government Area, Nigeria Akwa Ibom, the center alerted, said Mr. Eniang, who ran into the community with his equipment to buy it from the fishermen.
The fishermen had set the price of the turtle at N80,000.
“The animal has a large meat that can surround all the members of a family,” they told the conservation center team, apparently thinking that Eniang and others wanted to eat the turtle.
“When I heard it, I felt very angry inside of me,” a man from the conservation center, who was part of the rescue team, told PREMIUM TIMES. “Should people eat all the animals they see in nature?”
After several hours of negotiation, Eniang paid 20,000 naira for the turtle. But that was after he managed to get the fishermen and the turtle away from the local community and to the Biodiversity Preservation Center, which is miles away.
The center gave the fishermen some extra money, which they demanded as a transportation fee.
“What we paid (the fishermen) was insignificant because we threatened them that we would arrest them by the police for engaging in the illegal trade in animals.
“I had to open my phone to show them photos of people who were arrested in Lagos for selling bushmeat,” Eniang said.
The length and width of the turtle were 42 cm each. A full grown adult is at least 1.5 meters long.
The green turtle is classified as an endangered species.
They “are threatened by overharvesting of their eggs, hunting of adults, being entangled in fishing gear, and loss of beach nesting sites,” according to Worldwildlife.org.
“The green turtle is one of the largest sea turtles and the only herbivore among the different species. In fact, green turtles get their name from the greenish color of their cartilage and fat, not from their shells. In the eastern Pacific, a group of green turtles that have darker shells are called black turtles by the local community. Green turtles are found primarily in tropical and subtropical waters. Like other sea turtles, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches where they hatched,” says Worldwildlife.org.
‘The biggest news in turtle conservation’
Eniang said the rescue of the turtle at Akwa Ibom was the biggest news in turtle conservation in Nigeria.
“According to all scientific knowledge, this animal is not supposed to be there in that water (Cross River) because it is fresh water and not salty,” Eniang said.
He said he contacted a few animal experts from around the world and they all agreed that it was strange for the green turtle to be found in freshwater.
The salt water at Akwa Ibom is in the Atlantic Ocean, around the Ibeno, with an estimated distance of at least 160 km from where the turtle was caught.
“Who knows? Maybe it’s the climate change we’re talking about that has caused the animals to go beyond their range,” Eniang said.
In the afternoon, Mr. Eniang, assisted by Enim Akwa, a pilot at Akwa Ibom, and Mr. Akwa’s wife, Enwongo Cleopas-Akwa he prepared the turtle for a trip to Ibeno where it would be released into the Atlantic Ocean.
Mr. Akwa and his wife are partners in the Biodiversity Preservation Center. They were involved in the rescue and release of the turtle.
“We took him to the furthest part of the beach. We kept it on the shores. Then he started moving towards the bigger waves. It took him a while to get used to, but in three minutes he was crawling through the waves toward the ocean. We kept seeing him for a while until he disappeared into the waters. It was majestic,” Ms. Cleopas-Akwa told PREMIUM TIMES how the turtle was released into the ocean.
“Immediately we got to the beach and he started hearing the waves, he started flapping his fins so fast, like he was excited.”
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