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Two new reports confirm that animal suffering is a major issue at the Cayman Turtle Farm, the most popular tourist attraction in the Cayman Islands. Shockingly, the reports also reveal that the CTF has been aware of animal suffering, overcrowding and disease for more than six months, yet repeatedly made public denials to the contrary.
Following a meeting between the World Society of the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the CTF in July 2012, where WSPA presented its evidence of turtle cruelty, the first report discloses that CTF initiated an “immediate assessment” of its facility.
The full findings, drawn up by its own turtle expert, Professor Brendan Godley, which the Farm has gone to great lengths to keep hidden, identified problems akin to those published in WSPA’s investigation. Despite this, the CTF has continually sought to undermine WSPA’s claims, publicly rubbishing them and referring to them as “ungrounded,” “unfounded, erroneous and sensationalised.”
The Farm’s own findings confirmed that a significant number of turtles have injuries consistent with severe overcrowding and that disease is a “serious problem”. It stated that its much vaunted conservation facility does not have any veterinary care for the turtles and observed evidence “consistent with…cannibalism.” It also put forward a recommendation to measure the stress levels of turtles to determine the impact of public handling; a recommendation which is strongly supported by WSPA and will be of great interest to the cruise lines, which provide the Farm’s biggest customer base. To date, this recommendation has not been followed.
A second assessment was arranged by the Farm in December 2012, following continued pressure from WSPA, was finally made public on Friday. The report states that there is “clearly room for improvement in standards of care [at the Farm] which willrequire immediate changes in infrastructure, processes, staffing and resources.”
Key concerns include “severe injuries” among “a notable proportion of animals” including “deep ulceration to the shoulder, forelimbs, head and hind limbs”; “skin lesions” and “high mortality levels” in younger turtles. It confirmed that stocking densities are high and turtles appear emaciated and recommended a veterinary surgeon be appointed. It also confirmed that wild nesting populations need to be studied before the impact of the CTF’s “wild release” programme can be accurately determined. The panel responsible for the second report was also concerned that “similar recommendations had been made in the past but have not been acted on.”
WSPA wildlife expert Dr. Neil D’Cruze said: “The assessment of the Farm in July, and then again in December closely matches our own investigation, proving that the Farm knew our findings were true from the outset. Yet, instead of taking us up on our offer to work with them to find a solution, they accused us of sensationalism.
“While both reports vindicate our concerns and finally recognise the serious issues we have been raising for months, we fear that their recommendations will, sadly, do little to improve turtle welfare in the long term.
“We were expecting a detailed report based on hard evidence but instead we received a topline summary with no data to prove that any of the recommendations made within it will actually solve the extensive problems at the farm. Very little attention has been paid to addressing the fundamental issue at stake – that green sea turtles are wild solitary animals that simply cannot adapt to life crammed into a Farm with 9000 other turtles.”
The CTF is a popular tourist destination for many cruise line passengers and has been a focus for the travel industry after WSPA produced scientific evidence showing E. Coli, salmonella and a host of other harmful pathogens in water from the turtle touch tanks.
What has surprised WSPA is that the latest report states there are ‘no health concerns’ but fails to provide any data to show if water was even tested in a laboratory.
Representatives from WSPA will be meeting with the Farm on Tuesday 29 January and they remain hopeful that the Farm will reconsider working in collaboration with WSPA to address the wider issue of turtle welfare and develop a pragmatic, forward-thinking solution to these extensive on-going problems.
For more information on the WSPA campaign, interviews requests and images please contact:
Neena Dhaun, Media Manager, WSPA International
44 20 7239 0699