SPECIAL BULLETIN from the
TORTOISE TRUST, London
1,000 TORTOISES MURDERED BY SWEDISH CUSTOMS AND
WORLD-WIDE BOYCOTT OF SWEDISH
GOODS LAUNCHED IN RESPONSE
The incident began when a Syrian national known as Amro Hassan entered
Sweden at Arlanda Airport, Stockholm, with a consignment of 1,000 Horsfields
tortoises (Testudo horsfieldi) but without the necessary import
permit. The Syrian also had a Russian partner in this enterprise. Swedish
customs and agricultural authorities immediately impounded the consignment.
The animals were housed in a large shed and were provided with neither
heat, food or drinking water. They were also sprayed with a cold water
At this point, the authorities deviated from standard practice, as neither
the Swedish Herpetological Society nor other reptile consultants available
to them in Sweden were advised of the seizure or asked for technical advice
on how to handle the animals. It is evident that the episode was intended
to be handled entirely in secret. Ralph Tramontano, editor of the Swedish
Herpetological Societies publication SNOKEN, says that "The Dept.
of Agriculture in general is very secretive when it comes to regulating
and usually tries to control, excessively in my opinion, who is allowed
to know what they are considering".
News of the affair finally leaked out late on Wednesday evening, and
Tortoise Trust member in Sweden e-mailed us at once when it became apparent
from news reports that the authorities were a) keeping the tortoises in
unsuitable conditions and b) seriously contemplating killing them all.
The Tortoise Trust responded by immediately posting messages to Internet
Newsgroups including rec.pets.herps and sci.bio.herp, and simultaneously
alerted by e-mail many other contacts around the world to the plight of
Early on Thursday morning we received additional information from a contact
in Sweden. The authorities were now claiming that all of the tortoises
were "too sick" to survive and that therefore, they should be
killed at once. Our effort to save the animals moved into high gear. We
faxed a formal offer to the Swedish Embassy in Britain offering to meet
the full costs of sending the animals back to Tadzjikstan. We also offered
to provide expert advice on maintaining the tortoises properly or on veterinary
aspects. We are advised by the Swedish Embassy that this offer was forwarded
by fax within 60 minutes to the Minister of Agriculture in Sweden.
Via the Internet, we requested conservationists, tortoise enthusiasts
and animal welfare supporters to fax urgent letters to the Department of
Agriculture in Sweden pleading for the tortoises to be saved, or at least
for a delay whilst a rescue could be organised. At this point, we were
contacted by WWF-Sweden who supported our call to save the animals and
who were also desperately trying to persuade the authorities to change
their minds. We are aware that many people around the world did fax their
concerns to the Swedish authorities: faxes were sent from as far away as
Japan, the US, South Africa and Australia. Veterinary surgeons, biologists
and ordinary tortoise enthusiasts all pleaded with the authorities to think
As more details emerged, it became clear that the authorities were determined
to slaughter the entire shipment by freezing them to death. We again faxed
an urgent note to the authorities informing them that this is no longer
regarded as a particularly safe or humane method of reptile euthanasia.
Like our previous requests, this too was ignored.
The media in Sweden were contacted directly, and news of our offer to
help find an alternative home or to repatriate the tortoises to Tadzjikistan
was widely broadcast. SAS Airlines offered to fly to the tortoises free
of charge back to Moscow. The media in Britain were also advised of the
increasingly desperate nature of the fight to save these animals. Efforts
continued throughout Thursday, well into the night, to publicise their
plight and to persuade the authorities to back down. Dozens of faxes and
hundreds of e-mails were sent to over 16 countries. Direct pressure on
the Swedish authorities in Stockholm was also maintained, but by this time
the officials involved had all become "unavailable" and were
refusing to return calls.
On Friday morning (24th October) we learned the worst. Operatives of
the Ministry of Agriculture had worked all through the night to slaughter
the tortoises by freezing them to death in order to avoid the world-wide
storm of protest which they knew was rapidly building up. All 1,000 Horsfields
tortoises were now dead.
The lie that the tortoises were sick and that none could be saved was
finally exposed when a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, in
a TV interview, attempted to blame "CITES regulations" for the
slaughter! It further emerged that only 48 hours earlier, Sweden had considered
admitting the tortoises but that they also had "concerns that they
might be sold". None of this accords with the present official line
that all 1,000 tortoises were too sick to be saved.
It now seems that Department of Agriculture officials, headed by veterinarians
Karin Cerenius and Ernst Mehnert, were determined from the beginning to
press ahead with the slayings to set an example to other potential illegal
It is perfectly true that the tortoises were in poor condition - a state
not helped by the abominable conditions they were kept in by the Ministry
of Agriculture for a week. It defies belief, however, that 100% of a 1,000
strong consignment were so ill that euthanasia was the only viable option.
It has also emerged that illegal animals of all kinds are ROUTINELY
destroyed in Sweden, and that it is very rare indeed for an illegal shipment
NOT to be killed.
The Department of Agriculture must also answer as to why no external,
independent reptile experts (including specialist reptile veterinarians)
were consulted during this incident, and why veterinary advice that their
method of euthanasia was inhumane was entirely ignored. They must also
answer as to why the killing was carried out in such apparent haste.
The Tortoise Trust is appalled at this horrific and utterly barbaric
incident which is a disgrace to civilised standards of behaviour towards
animals. Everyone who worked so desperately to save the tortoises is extremely
upset, traumatised and angered by these events. Tortoise Trust Director,
Andy C. Highfield, says "I have worked in animal welfare and conservation
for 25 years, and this is absolutely the single worst incident I have ever
encountered. I am completely sickened by the action of the Swedish authorities.
We must not let the murder of these harmless creatures go unpunished and
their deaths must not be in vain. We must ensure that nothing like this
ever happens again".
To this end the Tortoise Trust is co-ordinating a world-wide boycott
of all Swedish goods and services. Volvo cars, Sandvik tools and Hasselblad
cameras are all specific targets of this economic campaign. Swedish timber
products are also subject to this boycott which will remain in place until
Karin Cerenius, Ernst Mehnert and the Minister of Agriculture, Annika Ahnberg,
resign or are sacked.
We also demand a change in the policy towards seized animals. The present
practice is barbaric, biologically wasteful and achieves absolutely nothing.
Far better that confiscated animals are either returned to the wild or
accommodated in zoos or with caring, responsible private keepers. We will
campaign for this in Sweden, and will also press for concerted action throughout
the EC to achieve the same objectives.
An Internet WWW site is now being prepared to offer full details of
this case and all the latest campaign news. Support materials: Bumper stickers,
badges, posters:- In preparation.You can also obtain details from the Tortoise
Trust on firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail from our office, Tortoise
Trust, BM Tortoise, London, WC1N 3XX, England.
A massive petition is being organised for presentation via the EC. The
purpose is to embarrass the Swedish government who have a reputation for
endlessly lecturing other countries on their alleged human and animal rights
PLEASE write letters of protest to:
Department of Agriculture
S 103 33 Stockholm
Sweden Tel: +46 8 405 100 Fax: +46 8 20 64 96
National Board of Agriculture
Sweden Tel:+46 36 155800 Fax::+46 36 715114
Copy all protest letters to your local Swedish Embassy or consulate
and inform them that you will be supporting the boycott of all Swedish
products and services as a direct result of the killing of these tortoises.
Re-post this notice in as many places as possible. The text may be used
in newsletters or in information leaflets. It may be also transmitted and
posted by e-mail.
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