Protected turtles killed by stray dogs in Guyana: an association has been alerted

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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 that were not monitored by their masters. A local association is concerned about the impact of these attacks – more than in previous years – on turtle eggs, protected and “already weakened” species, and condemns the municipality’s inaction on the issue.

It was the Kwata Association that sounded the alarm for the first time, on May 23, regarding 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 collective in France, located in northern Brazil. Kwata is a local association for the study and protection of nature, founded in 1994.

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

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

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

Benoit de Thoisy is the director of the Kwata Association:

Currently, it’s the start of the olive Ridley laying season: there have already been 1,500 eggs, meaning 600 or 700 females have already come to lay eggs. There is still a month of laying, which is essential because there are on average 3000 to 5000 claws every year, as there are generally 1500 to 2500 females to lay each year. If nothing is done to avoid turtle infestation, this can have a real impact on laying. In addition, these are protected species that have already been weakened, especially by inadvertent catches at sea.

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

Three species of sea turtles come regularly 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 neck and legs”

Benoit de Thoisy continues:

The small beach 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 laying again this year because a large mud bank had been moved so that the turtles had access to it again. But from the start of the laying season, we had fears because we knew there were dogs nearby. The last time a significant number of turtles had been killed by dogs was about ten years ago, on the same beach: about sixty had been killed.

We know that they were killed by dogs – and not by e.g. jaguars – for several reasons. It can already be seen in their injuries: the turtles are torn in the neck and legs, whereas they would be cut if they had been attacked by felines. We also saw dog tracks in the sand around the turtles. They attack in groups, unlike cats. And then the resident dogs attacked them. Of course, they do it for “fun”, because they do not eat them. Turtles only come out of the water to lay eggs: they are therefore killed before, during or after laying.

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 21 June. © 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. Under French rural fishing and maritime law, a dog is considered to be “wandering” when it is no longer under the supervision of its master, except when used for hunting or to keep a pack.

This text forbids letting dogs wander, and it is the mayors who must prevent them from wandering. The municipal police must prevent or remedy “unfortunate incidents” that may be caused by their walk, according to the General Code of Territorial Communities.

Benoit de Thoisy specifies:

Only a few dogs belong to two or three owners: they are well known. According to the 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 responded at all.

As turtles are protected species, this problem also falls under environmental law and the police in the French Office of Biodiversity. [un établissement public de l’État, NDLR]. In recent days, we have also seen agents from the French Office of Biodiversity patrol, trying to catch the dogs in “flagrant delicto”. At the moment, it is the only police force that has responded.

In addition, information work has already been done with dog owners in the area so they know the law. Most have responded well, but that is clearly not enough.

A poster posted on May 24 on the Facebook page of Réseau Tortues Marines Guyane, to inform dog owners about being stray.
A poster posted on May 24 on the Facebook page of Réseau Tortues Marines Guyane, to inform dog owners about being stray. © French Guiana Marine Turtle Network.

Our editorial staff called the town hall and the municipal police in 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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