Nature

‘Lizard King’ of Florida Charged For Illegally Harvesting Protected Turtles From Wild

“The Lizard King” – a Florida reptile dealer – faces federal charges because of his illegal activities which are collecting turtles from the wild and smuggling them out of the United States so they can be sold overseas.

Turtle

(Photo : Getty Images)

Illegal Turtle Harvest

Michael Van Nostrand, 54, is the owner of the reptile wholesale company Strictly Reptiles, Inc. based in Hollywood, Florida. As per the store website, it sells different kinds of reptiles, including snakes, turtles, lizards, juvenile alligators, and also different species of amphibians, scorpions large spiders, and non-native mammals. 

Van Nostrand got his royal title after penning his account “The Lizard King” in the year 2008, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

In Miami federal district court, the documents filed reveal that Van Nostrand and Strictly Reptiles started a network of so-called collectors so they can get safeguarded freshwater turtles from the wild, the U.S. Attorney’s Office representatives in the Southern District of Florida said in a statement on the 5th of October. 

As per the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Van Nostrand untruly tag the turtles as the ones raised while in captivity, so that people coming to buy the animals would not know they had been collected against the law. ABC News reported that since 2009, gathering wild turtles for commercial sale has been prohibited in Florida.

Also Read: Flights Delayed in Tokyo After a Turtle Was Spotted Casually Strolling in Airport Runway

Freshwater American Turtles 

As per the statement: “Van Nostrand’s co-conspirators – the ‘collectors’ – represented in federal export disclosure documents that the turtles were captive-bred, rather than wild-caught, which was a lie.”

Van Nostrand and his company smuggled hundreds of turtles which were sold in Japan, China, and elsewhere. In some Asian countries, freshwater American turtles are well-known as pets and food. And some valued turtles are sold for as much as $10,000 in auctions close to Shanghai, Radio Free Asia reported last year.

One of the turtle species which Van Nostrand wanted to harvest was the three-striped mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii) which is an aquatic turtle that has an oval-shaped shell with a body that is about 10 centimeters (4 inches) long, as per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 

These tiny reptiles possess large heads that usually have two yellow stripes on every side. Their brown shells also have stripes, though they are not always pronounced, as per FWC. 

Sea turtle

(Photo : Getty Images)

Consequences of Illegal Turtle Harvest

Striped mud turtles inhabit natural freshwater ponds and ditches that has low salinity; if the water turns very salty, the turtles won’t be able to survive there, FWC says.

When the climate is warm, they can be found in the shallow water of marshes and ponds, but when it is cold they will often use trees as their homes.

If the so-called Lizard King is convicted, he could be asked to pay a fine of not less than $250,000 and he could face up to five years in prison, while the company could be told to pay criminal fines of up to $500,000, as per the statement. 

Related Article: Human and Turtle Skin: Similar Proteins Evolved From Common Ancestor To Toughen Skin

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