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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 06:47 GMT
Tourists helping illegal tortoise trade
Tortoise, PA
Tortoises can make unsuitable pets, says the RSPCA
British holidaymakers are helping to support a cruel and illegal trade in rare tortoises, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) says the market for live tortoises taken from the wild is causing widespread suffering and is threatening some species with extinction.

Undercover RSPCA inspectors posing as tourists in a Moroccan market recently found more than 500 spur-thighed tortoises on open sale in just two hours.

It is an endangered species that cannot be imported legally into the EU, but the traders assured the inspectors there would be no problem taking them into the UK.

In Britain, recent discoveries by the RSPCA include two tiny tortoises in Birmingham, bought for 10 each on a Tunisian beach and smuggled into the country in a child's pocket.

Unsuitable pets

Another batch of the same endangered species was found in Yorkshire, having been driven in a camper van all the way from Morocco via the Channel Tunnel.

The report says many holidaymakers do not realise that tortoises have to be kept in special conditions to avoid suffering or death.

They do not make suitable pets, with nine out of ten tortoises dying within four years of being captured, the report adds.

It also says that by buying the animals, holidaymakers are encouraging a growing trade that threatens the survival of the species in the wild.

Passengers caught in possession of prohibited tortoises could face fines or imprisonment if caught by customs officers.

See also:

04 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
Tourists 'driving species to extinction'
25 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Tourist souvenirs harm wildlife
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