Recently, we were cleaning up some mounted turtles and turtle shells destined to go in the new Live Science Hall. All of these came from Amsterdam Schipol airport, where they had been confiscated by customs agents.
When taking a closer look at these animals we noticed that none of these specimens had the normal glass eyes used in taxidermy. Instead they were made of other materials less commonly used for mounting animals.
Quite a few of the turtles had eyes made from shells. Some appear to be cowrie, but we could not identify them all, and a few other shells were painted black making them impossible to identify.
Then we came across one turtle with a glass eyes made from a marble. Funnily enough, they used a “cat’s eye” marble and the coloured core actually made the eye look quite lifelike.
We also found turtles that had eyes made from seeds painted black. And the last example, clearly more modern, was made from googly eyes.
Despite the differences in style of, er, eye creation, all of the bodies appeared to be stuffed with some type of grass. And the turtles themselves are different species, ages and sizes. It is illegal to buy or trade sea turtles and sea turtle remains, but despite this there is still a black market trade. Hawksbill turtles are especially prized for their beautiful gold and brown shells, and parts of their shells are often found in jewellery.
The data regarding when these particular turtles came to Schipol is lost, so we do not know where they originated. Also it is not known if they were confiscated from tourists who had unknowingly purchased an illegal souvenir or from dealers hoping to sell these turtles in Europe. Tip of the hat to the keen eyed customs officials who spotted these.
Sea turtle populations are under a massive amount of pressure for a number of reasons right now. There is development on the beaches where they nest. They get tangled in fishing gear or are killed as bycatch of the fishing industry. Climate change has caused the sex ratio of turtles to skew, meaning more females and not enough males. In many parts of the world, people eat turtle meat. And of course the illegal trade of shells, eggs, taxidermy turtles, and skeletons takes a toll. We hope that by telling the story of these turtles, we can help raise awareness of their plight.