A new entry to the rapidly growing body of literature on endangered animals, this time about a species that has survived for millennia and is found around the world.
Award-winning journalist Laufer (Chair, Journalism/Univ. of Oregon; Organic: A Journalist's Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling, 2014, etc.), who is also a documentary filmmaker and broadcaster, has traveled the globe to examine the illegal trade in turtles. He shows the horror of this practice and of both the ingenuity and the stupidity of smugglers (in one chapter, he writes about a smuggler who was caught hiding turtles in his sweatpants). Among the author’s reports on poaching, vendors, chefs, and undercover agents, Laufer inserts short essays on his relationship, or attempted relationship, with his pet turtle, Fred. Another personal touch are the author’s accounts of his encounters with chefs; though he was able to calmly and carefully observe the preparation of turtle soup in a kitchen, the committed vegetarian never sampled the finished dish. The brief Fred stories are welcome changes from some of the disturbing scenes that Laufer describes. An especially memorable one was filmed by a Canadian schoolgirl touring Vancouver’s Chinatown, where she witnessed meat being sliced from live turtles; happily, the publicity that followed did change some Canadian regulations. Judging from the author’s report, however, not nearly enough is being done to protect turtles, tortoises, and terrapins (a distinction many general readers may not know). Laufer, who calls turtles “the canaries in the coalmine called Earth where we all live,” views the process of saving them as being “of existential importance to us all,” and his book is a clear call for action.
The author tackles an endangered species with less obvious charm than pandas or dolphins, but his love of them and the lore he includes makes this a highly readable book.