Raising turtles is trendy and can be hugely profitable

Now avid turtle fans want to promote the creatures’ industrial development.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A child gets intimate with a tortoise at a sea creatures aquarium at the weekend.

Shen Wei is an avid turtle lover with an ambition.

Early this year he and about 20 others formed a turtle fan club, naming him the secretary general. Now, Shen is considering upgrading it to an industrial association, the first of its kind in Shanghai.

“The market, from turtle raising, breeding to farming, is growing fast,” Shen said. “It’s a personal hobby, a social trend, and an industry.”

He estimates there are nearly 200,000 loyal turtle fans in Shanghai.

There is no doubt that he is one of them. His fascination with turtles began at the age of 7, in 1978, when his grandmother bought him a Chinese pond turtle as a gift to celebrate his first day at school.

His first reptile pet, though a common breed died during a summer holiday. But his obsession didn’t fade.

Shen so immersed himself in the turtle and tortoise world that in 2007 he resigned his job to open a turtle store. (The major difference between the two is that tortoises dwell on land, while turtles live in the water some or nearly all the time.)

Li Qian / SHINE

Longxing displays his turtle.

Like his grandmother, locals used to buy their turtles in wet markets, but around 2000, people in the city started to recognize turtles as ornamental species, and for the first time, they were sold in plant and pet malls. But in recent years, such malls are being closed amid urban renovation.

“It’s time for the industrial upgrade,” according to Shen.

He opened his store in a comprehensive creative park in Jing’an. “I have a little tea house in my store. I hope my customers and turtle lovers can feel at ease here. We can enjoy tea and exchange ideas,” he said. The number of customers has risen year by year, and many Shen said have become “crazy turtle fans.”

One of them is a company boss called Longxing, who now raises more than 100 turtles. To accommodate them, he rents a house.

“I have about 40 water tanks in the rental house. I’m busy with work, and thus I installed an automated feeding system on tanks. I visit them about three to four times a week, but every time it costs me about four hours,” he said.

Longxing said he can recognize every one of his turtles.

Li Qian / SHINE

An adult golden-headed box turtle is worth millions of yuan.

His is not an isolated case. Stereotyped as a cheap hobby, turtle raising has become more and more expensive. Many turtle lovers are prepared to spend thousands of yuan to indulge their hobby. Precious species are increasingly popular.

In an exhibition of aquarium fish held over the weekend, some golden-headed box turtles were among more than 10,000 turtles, in nearly 300 species, being displayed.

A baby golden-headed turtle is priced nearly 150,000 yuan (US$22,900). When it grows to full maturity in about 10 years, it will be worth at least 3 million yuan.

“Now, about 100 golden-headed box turtles are provided to the Shanghai market each year. Whatever the price, they are sold out immediately,” Shen said.

He believes the turtle market has a big industrial development ahead of it. He calls the turtle business a “balcony economy” and said it will incubate well in Shanghai.

“House prices are so high in Shanghai, and most of us don’t have much space to accommodate pets. Turtles don’t need much space. You just need to spare a corner on a balcony,” he said.

“Also, white-collar workers remain a major group in Shanghai. They are busy, yet they want to own pets. The turtle is a good choice. You just need to feed it and change water, and half of the year, it is sleeping. Also, they live long. They are really very good companions for life.”

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A young golden coin turtle is priced at 10,000 yuan.

Many of Shen’s friends have turned from turtle lovers to becoming professional turtle raisers and have their own breeding farms. According to Shen, it’s not only due to the pursuit of economic profit, it’s also a scientific way to protect the endangered species. “We will choose some turtles and put them into the wild.”

Shen said the golden-headed box species originated in Anhui Province and is exclusive to China. There are only about some hundreds of them in the wild, making them more endangered than the giant panda, Shen added. Thanks to the artificial breeding, the species is being revived.

What turtle lovers and experts say they want are more professional turtle doctors. Pan Liande, professor from Shanghai Ocean University, agrees.

Pan, a fish doctor, started to treat turtles in response to demand. Now, he has a fish and turtle clinic.

His clinic has about five customers a day. Common turtle diseases include eye disease, rotten shells and pneumonia. “I feed them medicine and give them intravenous injections. Some need to be hospitalized just the same like human beings.”

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A rare and precious albino turtle

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