Sixty-four rare turtles, including the endangered Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle, stolen from Okinawa Zoo & Museum

Sixty-four rare turtles, including the endangered Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle, stolen from Okinawa Zoo & Museum

The national natural monument Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle.

November 6, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

Okinawa – It was discovered November 5 that the Okinawa Zoo & Museum (Okihiro Kamizato, zoo director) was unable to locate 15 of nationally designated natural monument and endangered Ryukyu black-breasted turtle as well as 49 Chinese box turtles that were being raised at the zoo.

The zoo filed a police report with the Okinawa government office November 6.

The Ryukyu Shimpo similarly learned that the zoo was unsure of the whereabouts of a number of turtles in September of last year.

According to the zoo, at around 2:00 p.m. on October 28, one of the caretakers noticed a smaller-than-expected number of turtles at feeding time.

Upon inspecting the habitat, the caretaker noticed that a band securing the net over the habitat had been cut, and a portion of the net was removed. The zoo notified Okinawa City authorities, however as of November 5 a police report had not yet been filed.

The exhibit has been closed for the remaining nine Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles and fourteen Chinese box turtles since October 28.

The zoo said that the reason for not initially filing a police report was, “The person responsible [from the Okinawa City office] was out of the office for a few days, which overlapped with the holiday,” and commented, “We worry that [the turtles] will leave Okinawa island. We want cooperate in support of the police investigation.”

In the September incident last year, it could not be determined that a theft had taken place, and so a police report was not filed.

The zoo thereafter made changes to how they were exhibiting the habitat.

A representative from Okinawa City said, “We will confirm the circumstances surrounding the incident, and consider how to proceed after.”

The Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle is endemic to Okinawa’s main island as well as Toshiaki and Kume Islands.

Over fears of extinction, trade involving the turtle is restricted by the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Chinese box turtle can be found on Iriomote and Ishigaki Islands in Okinawa, as well as in Taiwan and Southern China.

(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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