Keeping an animal that belongs naturally in the wild, that is not tameable, and you have no knowledge of how to look after, is enormous cruelty. I can’t imagine what joy one would get out of keeping rabbits, turtles or mice… India has 55 kinds of turtle. More than half of these are on the endangered list. Apart from being a living creature, a turtle is anything but dim-witted. Its feats of memory, orientation and learning are impressive. It has a definite sense of time and place… Don’t eat them, don’t drink them, don’t wear them, don’t keep them. Just let the most venerable residents of this world be…
In 1982, Arun and Nina Singh came round to the house to celebrate Easter with the family. They brought three baby turtles with them as gifts for the children—including one for my son who was not yet two at the time. I was so revolted by the gift that not only did I refuse it but I delivered an unnecessarily sharp sermon which went down very badly. The turtles were kept in a little enclosure built for them under a lemon tree and a few months later they died. They had been an occasional object of curiosity for the children who used to flip them over in the beginning and then, because they were so slow, found them boring and soon forgot them.
I remembered this a while ago when a little boy rang me up, introduced himself and asked me where he could get a turtle as a pet, since he had set his heart on one. (This was, believe it or not, the day after one of my husband’s relatives asked me if he would have to pay import duty on a baby gorilla that he wanted to surprise his daughter with!). Keeping an animal that belongs naturally in the wild, that is not tameable, and you have no knowledge of how to look after, is enormous cruelty. I can’t imagine what joy one would get out of keeping rabbits, turtles or mice.
When you go to a seafood restaurant and drink turtle soup or eat turtle meat you are contributing in this case to the extinction of an endangered species which is almost the oldest living thing on this planet. When you buy tortoise shell artifacts, you are taking part in the capture and boiling alive of a creature, the Hawksbill Sea-Turtle that is so slow that it cannot defend itself at all. The shell or carapace is not a movable house but part of its skeleton.
In Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal there is a lunatic belief in the aphrodisiacal and body building properties of turtle blood. Thousands are caught annually, tipped over for days on the sand. When their turn comes, their undersides are slit open and the seller dips his small glass to catch the blood and give it to the queue of buyers to drink. In Calcutta you can see them lying helplessly upside down in rows waiting to be bought, killed and eaten. The catchers know that turtles have traditional nesting beaches which they revisit yearly to lay eggs. This is where they are caught, destroying the present and future generation at one go. West Bengal traders scour the beaches for eggs which are sold in the towns. Even the fishermen do their bit. A large number of sea-turtles are drowned accidentally in trawl nets and thrown away by those only interested in the haul of fish.
India has 55 kinds of turtle. More than half of these are on the endangered list. Apart from being a living creature, a turtle is anything but dim-witted. Its feats of memory, orientation and learning are impressive. It has a definite sense of time and place. Every year 250,000 baby turtles are sold to children as toys. India does its bit towards promoting this toy industry. The colourful Kachuga species, of which we have very few left, is especially popular abroad as pets so we export it from here to America and Europe. Less than one per cent last the year out. They die as they live—slowly, fading away on cold balconies or in wet gardens until they end up in the garbage can.
On the way their eyes get sticky and swollen due to vitamin deficiencies, they catch colds, internal parasites and finally turtle tuberculosis. Sometimes they are too cold, sometimes their shells get overheated. Finally they just stop eating the rubbish they are fed and this includes lettuce, meat, worms, bread and milk.
Every civilisation pays homage to the turtle. The largest and the oldest turtle was in fact a resident of India. The Vedas believe that the earth rests on the backs of four elephants who in turn stand on the carapace of a giant turtle. The turtle is in fact the Hindu symbol for cosmic power. In Thailandthere are turtle temples. If a believer finds a turtle he brings it to the pool surrounding the temple believing that he has saved a life. Don’t eat them, don’t drink them, don’t wear them, don’t keep them. Just let the most venerable residents of this world be.