A team of independent inspectors will visit the Cayman Turtle Farm between Monday and Wednesday in the wake of a damning investigation at the facility.
The independent inspection was ordered by the farm to look into a number of areas including water quality, density of turtles being housed in tanks and treatment for disease and injury among turtles, as well as the handling of animals by visitors and slaughter methods for turtles used for meat.
The review will also measure levels of mortality within the turtle population and the rate of occurrence for severe injuries or birth defects. The inspection will be conducted by a four-person team consisting of a zoologist, a wildlife veterinarian and two professors; one a senior lecturer in conservation biology and other in conservation science.
The inspectors will suggest any reasonable steps to improve animal care at the Turtle Farm, which is the only harvesting facility for turtle meat on Earth. They will also make comment on how the Cayman Turtle Farm contributes to conservation of sea turtles in the wild.
“The inspection should be made on the basis of the standards of practice that would apply to a comparable intensive livestock production facility in the UK or US,” according to an e-mail sent to the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals from Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam. “In regard to adding a WSPA expert on the team, the inspectors who have been selected are internationally known sea turtle experts and we believe they will conduct a fair inspection. It is important for the inspection team to maintain its independence and there would likely be a perception of bias if a representative of WSPA, which has campaigned against the CTF were added. Indeed none of our staff from the CTF will be on the inspection team since that also would likely lead to the report being discredited as biased.”
The report is expected to be complete by the end of January.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals or WSPA was the agency that initially undertook a covert investigation at the Turtle Farm finding what the agency stated was evidence of Salmonella and E. Coli contamination in the turtle tanks, evidence of cruel and inhumane treatment and evidence of high mortality rates and some birth defects among the turtle population.
WSPA stated from the outset that it is generally opposed to harvesting of turtle meat for commercial sale, which has not endeared the organisation to many Cayman Islands citizens who consume turtle meat as the national dish.
“The WSPA has … embarked on a smear campaign to coerce the Cayman Turtle Farm to submit to the WSPA’s demands, despite the fact that their allegations are unfounded, erroneous and sensationalised,” a statement released earlier this year by the Turtle Farm read.
The Cayman Islands government also released a statement in response to the WSPA’s initial report: “By calling for a cessation of commercial farming under the guise of concerns over animal welfare, it appears that the internationally-based WSPA is attempting to alter the culture of the Cayman Islands without understanding the history of this small country or its people.
“Moreover, their objective clearly disregards the important role the Cayman Turtle Farm plays in turtle conservation and they appear to be unconcerned about the ramifications that the cessation of commercial farming would have on turtle populations in the wild.”
The WSPA’s Neil D’Cruze recently indicated his organisation’s “extreme concern” about the independent review the Turtle Farm is undertaking, particularly its intention to compare the operation to “intensive livestock farming”.
“Green Sea Turtles are not domesticated animals, and so should not be compared to standards which are meant to be applied to animals which are,” Mr. D’Cruze wrote in an e-mail responding to Mr. Adam last month.
Mr. D’Cruze also indicated that the Turtle Farm’s independent reviewers were not identified by name and that none of them appeared to have a background in “animal welfare”.