PhD in Biological Sciences, expert on reptiles of Northern Eurasia of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN-IUCN), coordinator of the Society for the Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Dront Ecocenter Mark Pestov has been saving turtles for more than ten years. He told Novye Izvestia that during the pandemic, experts recorded an increase in the number of advertisements for the sale of Red Book species of turtles on popular Internet sites for trade and exchange of goods. This is a Mediterranean tortoise, which is included in the international Red List of Protected Species, in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and in the Red Book of Russia. The specialist notes that the scale of online commerce worsen the already vulnerable position of the animal, some populations of which are on the verge of extinction.
According to paleontology, the first turtles appeared about 200 million years ago - at about the same time as the dinosaurs. But unlike them, they have survived to this day, almost unchanged. They are potential centenarians: scientists reliably know the gigantic tortoise, which lived 152 years, and the Mediterranean, which lived 125 years.
In captivity, the turtle is doomed to slow death. “People don't like snakes and that's why they often kill them, but with turtles the opposite problem: people love them. It is mistakenly believed that a turtle is the best option for a pet and a “live” gift for a child - it does not bark, does not meow and does not require special care. However, turtles are not at all pets. They almost never breed at home and it is very difficult to create suitable conditions for them in an apartment, ”says Mark Pestov.
Crawled to Avito
On the territory of Russia, the Mediterranean turtle lives in a limited area.
In the foothills of the Krasnodar Territory and Dagestan. A separate subspecies - the Nikolsky tortoise is found on a narrow strip of the Black Sea coast from Anapa to Tuapse and isolated in Abkhazia. Once upon a time, turtles were found on the territory of Sochi, but now it is almost impossible to meet them there. Scientists note that the main reasons for the reduction in the range and number of the species lie in the destruction of its habitats as a result of construction, expansion of farmland and intensive recreational use of territories. This is exactly what is actively happening on the territory of the densely populated and economically attractive Krasnodar Territory. There are also factors such as the death of turtles on the roads, and small turtles are often prey to predators and domestic animals. And to all this "bouquet" of dangers, the illegal catch and sale of animals for keeping at home was added.
Most likely, given the geography and scale of the trade, we are talking about an organized group of people who are engaged in trapping animals. According to Mark Pestov, almost all land turtles that are sold in Russia are caught in nature and their sale is illegal: “Since 2006, we have been actively working in the Caucasus and dealing with this species. We have repeatedly appealed to law enforcement agencies in connection with the trade in turtles in the markets and pet shops of the Krasnodar Territory, and this “street” trade was stopped. However, now the sale of Red Book reptiles is flourishing on the Internet and it is much more difficult to combat this phenomenon. Over the past three months, we have identified more than a dozen advertisements, with some of the sellers clearly engaged in wholesale trade and have put the illegal business on stream".
On the popular services Avito and Yula, the cost of one Mediterranean turtle varies from one thousand to eight thousand rubles. At the same time, in the description in some ads, it is often indicated that the turtles were raised on a turtle farm in Rostov-on-Don. However, neither experts nor animal rights activists have ever heard of the existence of such farms. Moreover, any operation for breeding wild animals that are included in the Red Book must be carried out on the basis of a license. To do this, you need to obtain a permit from Rosprirodnadzor for the maintenance and breeding of wildlife objects listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation, in semi-free conditions and in an artificially created habitat. After calling some advertisements, I asked questions about the so-called "farm" and its location, after which the authors of the advertisements posted immediately hung up.
Internet against rare species
Now the Internet has become the main trading platform for the sale of wild animals, including especially valuable ones, for the illegal trafficking of which is criminalized. This is due to the fact that there is no systemic regulation of online trade in wild animals in Russia, says Tatyana Ivannikova, expert of the World Wildlife Fund on trade in wild animals: “In April, together with WWF Russia, we released a large review of the commercial circulation of wild animals in Russia...
Monitoring of the Russian-speaking segment of the Internet revealed more than seven thousand unique advertisements for the sale of animals falling under the CITES convention, 30 advertisements for the sale of highly valuable wild animals, their parts and derivatives "(note - a derivative is a derivative from animals or plants, as well as products their processing).
The expert report indicates that in 2014-2018, about 2,000 court decisions were made to recognize information on the sale of animals as prohibited for distribution. On the basis of court decisions, about 3200 Internet pages have been entered into the Unified Register of Roskomnadzor, and the prohibited information has already been removed from 3100. Nevertheless, users find opportunities to post new advertisements for the sale of wild animals, instead of blocked ones. However, unlike the extremist information that salaried employees of government agencies seek out on the Internet, volunteers are forced to search for data on illegal trade.
“The absence in Russia of systemic control over the circulation of wild animals on the Internet creates conditions for the development of illegal trade. Russian online trading platforms have not yet developed a special open policy regarding the trade of wild animals, their parts and derivatives, although such a practice exists in the world and is being implemented by members of the global coalition to eliminate illegal Internet trade in wild animals (Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online). It is also possible that many people are not sufficiently informed about the responsibility that is provided for this. The problem exists and it needs to be solved systematically, not episodically”, - the expert summed up.
Not on the lists
Mark Pestov said that together with like-minded colleagues they assembled a team of volunteers who monitor ads on the Internet and use photographs to reveal whether the turtle belongs to the Red Data Book species or not: “Based on the facts I have found, I prepare a specialist's opinion, then based on this conclusion we We send applications to specialized departments and supervisory authorities of those regions where announcements of sale are revealed.
Unfortunately, over the past 3 months of correspondence with law enforcement agencies, we have not yet achieved the desired result: removal of turtles from illegal circulation and their return to their natural habitats, as well as bringing sellers to administrative responsibility in accordance with the article "Destruction of rare and under the threat of extinction of animal or plant species” (Art. 8.35 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation). And the responsibility for this offense is very symbolic: the amount of the possible fine is usually much less than the price of the turtle sold”, - the expert says.
In the Criminal Code, however, there is also article 258.1 (Illegal extraction and circulation of especially valuable wild animals and aquatic biological resources belonging to the species listed in the Red Book). It was introduced in 2103, and at the end of 2019, Vladimir Putin signed a law toughening the punishment for illegal production and trafficking of animals included in the Red Book. However, the Criminal Code protects only those animals of the Red Book, which, in turn, are included in a special list of especially valuable wild species approved by the government.
It is small; it includes several species of mammals, fish and birds of prey. It includes, for example, a snow leopard and a leopard. Reptiles in this list are absent, as well as many other "Red Book" species. Therefore, despite the fact that, according to judicial statistics, the number of sentences under Art. 258.1 of the Criminal Code is very small, almost all of them relate to the trade in sturgeon fish caught in the Caspian Sea and the Far East. That is, in fact, classic poaching. Cases of other types brought to court and verdict are rare.
It is obvious that in order to solve the problem of illegal trade in rare species, it is necessary to increase responsibility for business attempts on the Red Book.