Turtle Farm defends independence of review
(CNS): Contrary to the statement from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) about the review of the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF), the local attraction said Wednesday that it was an unbiased and independent investigation, with the primary goal to determine if standards of care meet those required to ensure that the operation is conducted in a “humane manner”. The farm stated that the terms of reference directly related to the welfare of the turtles, and matched the areas of concern alleged by the WSPA in the report. “We therefore are at a loss to understand why the WSPA claims the review does not have the welfare of the turtles in the care of the Cayman Turtle Farm at heart,” the Farm stated in a release.
On Monday the WSPA said it had concerns that the review team was compromised of at least two members that had worked with the farm in the past and that there were no animal welfare experts on the team. The WSPA was also concerned about the standards to which the Cayman Turtle Farm would be held.
However, CTF said that as it is a completely unique facility with nothing to compare to, the terms of reference had to be based on the standards of practice that would apply to a comparable intensive livestock facility.
“The WSPA takes issue with this, arguing that the turtle is not a domesticated species. However, neither were pigs, cows or chickens – until they were in fact farmed and domesticated,” the Farm said.
CTF also stated that the four inspectors are all well-known turtle experts and members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG).
George Balazs, a sea turtle scientist with 40 years of professional experience, has published over 100 journal papers on sea turtles. He has been a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group since 1976, and is currently the MTSG Vice-Chair for the Pacific Islands Region.
Dr Annette Broderick is a Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology. She has been researching marine turtle populations for over 20 years, with much of her work focusing on the UK Overseas Territories, including the Cayman Islands. Her research focuses on the conservation and monitoring of marine turtle populations, in particular reproductive investment; impacts of temperature on hatchling production; migration and navigation of adults and the management of marine turtle harvests. She is a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group.
Dr Thierry Work is a veterinarian, and a wildlife disease expert with 20 years of professional experience on diseases of sea turtles. He is credited with over 40 journal papers on sea turtles. He is a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group and the IUCN Wildlife Health Specialist Group (WHSG).
Professor Brendan Godley is a marine conservation scientist and qualified veterinarian who has been working on marine turtles around the world for over 20 years. He is a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Professor Godley was selected by the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to conduct an inspection in 2002 on the Cayman Turtle Farm. He serves on the IUCN Veterinary Specialist Group and the Turtle Implementation Group for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for Marine Turtles.
“Despite the clear qualifications of these individuals to conduct a thorough review of the Cayman Turtle Farm, the WSPA has complained that there is no animal welfare expert on the review team,” the Farm stated, adding that it did not know how the WSPA defined an animal welfare expert as all of the team are inarguably experts on sea turtles. It said two are qualified veterinarians, while another has three years’ experience on an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) combined with formal training in animal welfare.
The farm also denied that team was compromised and said it believed that if a WSPA expert had been invited to take part then the review would have been less independent.
“For this reason, neither a WSPA representative nor a Cayman Turtle Farm representative are included on the team, for the very purpose of ensuring that the reviewers come to their own independent conclusions,” the CTF said.
Professor Brendan Godley and Dr Annette Broderick have been in contact with the Cayman Turtle Farm over the years in the course of their work, which the farm said is not surprising as the Farm is the only organisation of its kind in the world, focusing on captive breeding of sea turtles and maintaining a stock of sea turtles of various ages.
However, CTF said neither Professor Godley nor Dr Broderick have ever been employed by CTF. Godley conducted a review of the Cayman Turtle Farm in 2002 that was funded by the UK Government and he was selected by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) based on his expertise.
The report is due at the end of January and CTF said it will pursue the recommendations arising from it and make the findings public.
“The Cayman Turtle Farm was not forced into this independent review. We chose to have it conducted and agreed to pursue its findings in order to address the areas of concern which arose due to the WSPA’s allegations, and to reaffirm that the Cayman Turtle Farm is a bona fide research and conservation facility, which does not practice or condone animal cruelty, and which is committed to the wellbeing of the turtles in our care,” CTF said.
According to the review terms of reference, the inspection team is expected to examine water quality; stocking densities; treatment and prevention of disease and injury; levels and causes of mortality; levels (if any) of severe injuries; levels (if any) of congenital deformities; handling of animals by guests (including safety of both animals and guests); and slaughter methods and practice.
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