Jan. 29, 2013:¬† 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¬†‚Äúimmediate assessment‚ÄĚ¬†of its facility.
The full findings, which the Farm has gone to great lengths to keep hidden, identified problems akin to those published in WSPA‚Äôs investigation. Despite this, the CTF has continually sought to undermine WSPA‚Äôs claims, publicly rubbishing them and referring to them as ‚Äúungrounded,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúunfounded, erroneous and sensationalised.‚ÄĚ
The Farm‚Äôs own findings confirmed that a significant number of turtles have injuries consistent with severe overcrowding and that disease is a ‚Äúserious problem‚ÄĚ. ¬†It stated that the self-proclaimed conservation facility does not have any veterinary care for the turtles and observed evidence ‚Äúconsistent with‚Ä¶cannibalism.‚ÄĚ¬†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‚Äôs biggest customer base. To date, this recommendation has not been followed.
A second assessment, which 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¬†‚Äúclearly room for improvement in standards of care [at the Farm] which will¬†require immediate changes in infrastructure, processes, staffing and resources.‚ÄĚ
Key concerns include ‚Äėsevere injuries‚Äô¬†among ‚Äėa notable proportion of animals‚Äô¬†including ‚Äėdeep ulceration to the shoulder, forelimbs, head and hind limbs‚Äô; ‚Äėskin lesions‚Äô¬†and ‚Äėhigh mortality levels‚Äô 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‚Äôs ‚Äúwild release‚ÄĚ programme can be accurately determined. ¬†The panel was also concerned that¬†‚Äúsimilar recommendations had been made in the past but have not been acted on.‚ÄĚ
WSPA wildlife expert Dr. Neil D‚ÄôCruze said: ‚ÄúThe 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.
‚ÄúWhile 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.
‚ÄúWe were expecting a detailed report based on hard evidence but instead we received a¬†top line 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 ‚Äď that green sea turtles are wild solitary animals that simply cannot adapt to life crammed into a Farm with 9000 other turtles.‚ÄĚ
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 ‚Äėno health concerns‚Äô¬†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 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.
WSPA has identified a number of significant flaws in the report:
¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The report demonstrates a real lack of understanding about welfare. Welfare is not just about ensuring animals are in good health ‚Äď although that is a big part of it ‚Äď it is about ensuring they are capable of expressing natural behaviour, e.g. an animal may appear to be clinically in good health but still suffering acutely from stress and fear.
¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The report only makes recommendations to reduce disease and injury and¬†doesn‚Äôt put forward any recommendations about how to improve standards for the turtles‚Äô welfare, such as dramatically reducing overcrowding. It focuses on the symptoms, rather than the root causes ‚Äď that green sea turtles are wild solitary animals that simply cannot adapt to life crammed into a Farm with 9000 other turtles.
¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†It does not acknowledge that sea turtles are wild animals that have complex behavioural needs. This involves swimming thousands of miles across the world‚Äôs oceans and diving to great depths.¬†The report does not acknowledge that turtles are non-domestic animals.
¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†It demonstrates a fundamental lack of detail. From the short report that we have been given it appears as though the majority of its findings are based solely on observation. We don‚Äôt know what scientific methods were used, if any, and no results have been provided to back up the conclusions, for example, water was not lab tested. We were expecting a fully comprehensive scientific report based on hard evidence
¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†There is no evidence to prove that handling does not represent a welfare concern. Back in July, when Professor Godley, carried out the first assessment he recommended the farm measure stress levels in farmed turtles versus wild turtles. No scientific test of this kind has taken place. Further recommended behavioural studies have also been ignored.
¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The standards of care for turtles vary hugely to domesticated animals like cows and chickens. Turtles are not domestic animals that have not been selectively bred over thousands of years to cope in artificial captive conditions.
¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The inspection compares the Farm to intensive livestock production facilities. This is an entirely different to the picture the Farm paint to tourists as a conservation facility.