27 alligator snapping turtles released into East Texas after illegal trafficking attempt

CW39

(KETK)- 27 alligator snapping turtles were released into East Texas after people tried to traffic the animals.

21 were adult turtles and six were young animals, said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

They worked with multiple agencies to set the animals free. The other organizations that assisted were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Stephen F. Austin State University, Sabine River Authority, Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Houston Zoo, and the Turtle Survival Alliance, and more.

In 2017, Texas Game Wardens and the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement began an investigation into the poaching of alligator snapping turtles.

Some turtles that weighed around 150 pounds were being poached in the Lone Star State and taken to Louisiana. This is a federal Lacey Act violation.

Alligator snapping turtles are a popular food item in Louisiana. There is a restriction of one per day in the state.

For this reason, there is a small population of the animal in Louisiana and poaching has become a problem in Texas, where it is illegal to harvest them.

The 27 turtles made it to East Texas from the Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana. They were taken to Natchitoches after they were seized by officials in 2016.

“Alligator snapping turtles have been protected in Texas since the 1970’s,” said Meredith Longoria, Deputy Director of the TPWD Wildlife Division. “We have a unique opportunity to not only return these turtles to their range in Texas from which they were taken, but also to learn more about their habits and their biology so that we can more effectively conserve Texas populations to ensure their viability for generations to come.”

“I am very proud of the Service’s role in helping to rescue these alligator snapping turtles from the illegal wildlife trafficking market and return them back to where they belong in East Texas,” said Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “I also want to acknowledge the teamwork of everyone who made this return possible: from our own Service law enforcement, hatchery and ecological services staff to the TPWD, river authority, university and non-profit organization staff who provided their time, funding and logistical support to get these living dinosaurs back into the wild. The success of this project demonstrates our shared commitment to protecting and conserving wildlife in Texas.”

TPWD Nongame and Rare Species Program staff have partnered with Texas researchers and the Turtle Survival Alliance to work on a genetic analysis of all of the animals that were released. This will allow experts to learn what river basin the turtles came from.

Veterinarians also checked on each turtle to make sure they were healthy. They also placed radio telemetry tags on the animals to monitor their survival, habitat use, and movement throughout their lives.

More information about nongame and rare species in Texas, including species listed as threatened or endangered, can be found on the Wildlife Diversity page of the TPWD website.

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