Animal rescuers picked up nearly 250 red-eared slider turtles off a beach in Tsuen Wan on Sunday, saving them from possible death, after receiving an alert that a family had released the creatures into the sea as part of a Taoist religious ritual.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it saved as many as 245 red-eared sliders, a kind of semi-aquatic turtle that is popular as a pet in some parts of the world.
A Filipino domestic helper alerted a lifeguard at about 11 am that she saw a family, accompanied by a Taoist priest, throw a bag of turtles into the sea near the pier at Anglers’ Beach.
The family was apparently performing a ritual as followers of Taoism and Buddhism believe that freeing caged animals into the wild will bring good karma.
However, what they didn’t realize — or perhaps chose to ignore — was the fact that they endangered the lives of the turtles by releasing them into the sea.
The red-eared sliders are freshwater, not saltwater, creatures. Putting them into the ocean and exposing them to sea salt was tantamount to killing them.
After receiving a report from eyewitnesses, SPCA staff arrived at the beach and began a rescue operation, Apple Daily reported.
They sailed into the sea with several lifeguards to pick up the turtles, which were seen floating at the sea surface or clinging on to rocks. Some turtles were scooped up from the beach as the animals scrambled out of the salt water.
All of the saved turtles were taken back to SPCA for examination by veterinarians.
The organization said some of the turtles picked up had suffered bleeding or abrasions. It is believed that the creatures may have bumped against rocks when they were thrown into the sea.
Activists reminded people that release of red-eared sliders into the sea constitutes a breach of the law, as the action will put the turtles’ lives at risk.
Anyone who puts freshwater turtles into saltwater sea might violate the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance and could face a HK$200,000 fine and up to three years jail term once convicted, the SPCA said.
According to the group, many animals purchased at pet shops or in the markets are not suitable for being released into the wild.
As some of the animals are foreign species, they will not be able to adapt to the environment.
Ming Pao Daily reported that Sunday’s incident was the third of its kind in the past two months. In one case, 48 red-eared sliders were found and picked up at Approach Beach on Aug. 17.
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