Protected turtles killed by stray dogs in Guyana: an association is alarmed

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Since the end of May, thirteen sea turtles have been found dead on a beach where they had come to lay eggs, in the town of Rémire-Montjoly, in French Guiana. They were killed by dogs not watched by their masters. A local association is concerned about the impact of these attacks – more numerous than in previous years – on the eggs of turtles, protected and “already weakened” species, and denounces the inaction of the municipality in the face of the problem.

It was the Kwata association that sounded the alarm for the first time, on May 23, concerning a green turtle found dead on a small beach in Rémire-Montjoly. It is a commune in the suburbs of Cayenne, in Guyana, a unique territorial collectivity of France, located in northern Brazil. Kwata is a local association for the study and protection of nature, created in 1994.

Since then, twelve olive ridley sea turtles have also been found dead on the same beach, where they had come to lay their eggs.

The green turtle found dead on a beach in Rémire-Montjoly on May 23. Traces of dogs and of Urubus – a scavenger raptor – are visible at his side. © Kwata Association.

“If nothing is done to prevent turtle attacks, this could have a real impact on egg laying”

Benoit de Thoisy is the director of the Kwata association:

Currently, it is the start of the olive ridley egg-laying season: there have already been 1500 eggs, which means that 600 or 700 females have already come to lay eggs. There, there is still one month of laying, which is essential, because there are on average 3000 to 5000 clutches every year, since 1500 to 2500 females come to lay each year, in general. If nothing is done to avoid turtle attacks, this could have a real impact on egg laying. In addition, these are protected species that are already weakened, in particular by accidental catches at sea.

An olive ridley turtle found dead on a beach in Rémire-Montjoly on June 27.  Eggs are visible next to it.
An olive ridley turtle found dead on a beach in Rémire-Montjoly on June 27. Eggs are visible next to it. © Kwata Association.

Three species of sea turtles regularly come to lay eggs in French Guiana: the green turtle, the olive ridley turtle and the leatherback turtle. They are on the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: the first is considered “endangered”, and the other two “vulnerable”. They are therefore protected in France.

In general, only “one or two turtles” are found dead on the Guyanese coast each year, according to the Kwata association.

An olive ridley turtle attacked on a beach in Rémire-Montjoly, June 22.  Traces of dogs and vultures are visible in the sand.
An olive ridley turtle attacked on a beach in Rémire-Montjoly, June 22. Traces of dogs and vultures are visible in the sand. © Kwata Association.

“Turtles are torn in the neck and legs”

Benoit de Thoisy continues:

The small beach of Rémire-Montjoly – where the thirteen turtles were killed – is the only one where we have observed this problem since the end of May. It had become favorable for egg-laying again this year, because a large mud bank had moved, so the turtles had access to it again. But from the start of the egg-laying season, we had fears, because we knew that there were dogs nearby. The last time that a significant number of turtles had been killed by dogs was about ten years ago, on this same beach: around sixty had been killed.

We know that they were killed by dogs – and not by jaguars for example – for several reasons. Already, this can be seen in their injuries: the turtles are torn at the neck and legs, whereas they would be cut if they had been attacked by felines. Also, we saw dog tracks in the sand around the turtles. They attack in groups, unlike felines. And then, residents saw dogs attacking them. Obviously, they do this for “fun”, because they don’t eat them. Turtles come out of the water only to lay eggs: they are therefore killed before, during or after laying eggs.

The association found the footprints of an olive ridley turtle and dogs, as well as blood, in the sand of a beach in Rémire-Montjoly on June 21. © Kwata Association.

The olive ridley turtle found dead on a beach in Rémire-Montjoly on June 21.  According to the Kwata association, she managed to return to the sea after the attack, but then died quickly, and was stranded not far away.
The olive ridley turtle found dead on a beach in Rémire-Montjoly on June 21. According to the Kwata association, she managed to return to the sea after the attack, but then died quickly, and was stranded not far away. © Kwata Association.

“It was stray dogs that attacked them”

According to the Kwata association, it was “stray” dogs that attacked the turtles. According to the French Rural and Maritime Fisheries Code, a dog is considered “in a state of wandering” when it is no longer under the supervision of its master, unless it is used for hunting or to keep a herd. .

This text prohibits letting dogs wander, and it is the mayors who must prevent them from wandering. The municipal police must prevent or remedy “unfortunate events” which could be caused by their rambling, according to the General Code of Territorial Communities.

Benoit de Thoisy specifies:

These are only a few dogs, belonging to two or three owners: they are well identified. According to residents, these dogs also attack walkers and dogs on a leash.

We have already alerted the mayor and the municipal police about the turtle attacks, but so far they have not reacted at all.

In addition, as turtles are protected species, this problem also falls under the Environmental Code and the police of the French Office for Biodiversity. [un établissement public de l’État, NDLR]. In recent days, we have also seen agents from the French Office for Biodiversity patrolling, to try to catch the dogs in “flagrante delicto”. For the moment, it is the only police that has reacted.

In addition, awareness work has already been done with dog owners in the area, so that they know the law. Most have reacted well, but it is obviously not enough.

A poster published on May 24, on the Facebook page of the Réseau Tortues Marines Guyane, to educate dog owners about straying.
A poster published on May 24, on the Facebook page of the Réseau Tortues Marines Guyane, to educate dog owners about straying. © French Guiana Marine Turtle Network.

Our editorial team called the town hall and the municipal police of Rémire-Montjoly, and sent them questions by e-mail, at their request. We will publish their answers if they reach us.

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