Activists sound alarm over loose dogs killing endangered turtles in French Guyana
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Thirteen endangered sea turtles have been found dead on a beach where they come to lay their eggs in Rémire-Montjoly, French Guyana in just over a month. The animals were all killed by dogs who were not being monitored by their owners. A local organisation has raised the alarm about these attacks on endangered turtles, which have increased in frequency, and says the authorities need to do more.
A local organisation called Kwata first raised the alarm on May 23 after a dead turtle was discovered on a small beach in Rémire-Montjoly.
Rémire-Montjoly is a suburb of Cayenne, in French Guyana, an overseas department of France that is located to the north of Brazil. The Kwata Association was founded in 1994 and is dedicated to studying and protecting the natural world.
Since then, 12 more turtles have been found dead on the same beach, where they come to lay their eggs.
'If nothing is done to prevent the attacks on sea turtles, that could have a real impact on egg laying'
Benoit de Thoisy is the director of the Kwata Association.
Right now, it is the start of the sea turtles’ laying season. About 1,500 clutches [Editor's note: the number of eggs laid in a single turtle's nest] have already been laid, which means about 600 or 700 females have visited the beach to lay their eggs. There is still a month left of egg laying season. In general, there are about 3,000 to 5,000 clutches per year, because about 1,500 to 2,500 females come to this beach to lay each year. If nothing is done to prevent the attacks on turtles, that could have a real impact on egg laying. It’s even worse because this is already an endangered species, many of which are accidentally caught in fishing nets.
Three types of sea turtles regularly lay eggs in Guyana: the green sea turtle, the olive ridley sea turtle and the leatherback sea turtle. All three are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which identifies species threatened with extinction.
Green sea turtles are categorised as endangered, which means there is “a very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.” The two others are in the next category down, “vulnerable”, meaning they are at a high risk of human-caused extinction without further human intervention. All three types are protected species in France.
In normal years, only “one or two sea turtles” are found dead on the Guyanese coastline, Kwata says.
'The turtles’ necks and feet are torn up'
Benoit de Thoisy continued:
The small beach in Rémire-Montjoly – where the 13 turtles were killed – is the only site where we have recorded this problem since late May. It has become the favorite spot for laying eggs again this year, because some mudflats shifted, opening up access to the beach again for the sea turtles.
However, we’ve been afraid right from the very start of the laying season because we knew there were dogs in the area. The last time a large number of turtles were killed by dogs, it was about ten years ago on the same beach. About 60 or so were killed at that point.
There’s a few reasons that we are sure that they were killed by dogs and not, for example, jaguars. First you can tell from their injuries –the turtles’ necks and feet are torn up. If it was a big cat, they would have been cut off. Moreover, we saw dog prints in the sand near turtles.
Several dogs attack at once, unlike big cats, who hunt alone. Locals also witnessed some dog attacks. Clearly, the dogs do that for 'fun', because they don’t eat the turtles. Turtles only come out of the water to lay eggs – so the ones killed were all doing that.
'It’s loose dogs that attacked them'
According to Kwata, loose dogs had attacked the sea turtles. The French Rural and Marine Fishing Code considers dogs to be "loose" or "wandering" when they are not under their owners' surveillance. There are exceptions for working dogs who are either hunting or herding.
This law forbids owners from letting their dogs wander. Local police are charged with trying to prevent or find a solution to problematic incidents that might arise from loose dogs, according to local codes.
Benoit de Thoisy added:
We’ve identified the issue and it really is just a few dogs belonging to two or three owners. According to locals, these same dogs also attack walkers and other dogs who are on their leashes.
We have already warned city hall and the police about the attacks on turtles but, for the time being, they haven’t responded.
Moreover, because sea turtles are a protected species, this problem also falls under the Code for the environment and policing created by the French office for biodiversity. Over the past few days, we’ve seen agents from the office on patrol in an attempt to catch any loose dogs. For the time being, that’s the only police response we’ve seen.
We’re also working to raise awareness amongst dog owners in the region so that they know the law. Most of them have reacted well to it but it clearly isn’t enough.
Our team called the Rémire-Montjoly police and city hall and sent them questions by email at their request. We will publish their responses if they get back to us.