Sept. 2, 2004 St. Croix dogs have attacked turtles three times in the past week, the latest in a series of incidents that point up a continuing problem.
"Stray cats and dogs are the number one threat to sea turtles," said Paul Chakroff, who serves as director at the St. Croix Animal Shelter.
Poaching is the second, but he said that situation currently appears to be under control. A St. Thomas man was arrested in connection with the capture of three sea turtles last weekend. (See Turtles Set Free, V.I. Man Charged After Boat Chase).
One hawksbill turtle was found dead Aug. 27 on Frederiksted Beach north of Fort Frederick. William Coles, the chief of environmental education at Planning and Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division, said a dog had bitten big chunks out of the turtle's neck.
He said the turtle was a female on her way ashore to lay her eggs. "It could have just as easily been a child," he said.
A turtle attacked at Good Hope School beach escaped into the water after people drove the dogs off. "In both cases we saw dog prints," Coles said.
Chakroff said dogs also attacked a turtle at Jack's Bay, but he did not know that turtle's fate.
Additionally, he said that within the past week dogs attacked a suckling pig.
Chakroff said that on St. Croix livestock losses due to dog attacks might reach 30 percent.
While the cats are solitary predators, dogs run in packs. Those packs consist of feral dogs along with those left to roam by their owners. Since owners often do not have their dogs spayed or neutered, the number of roaming dogs increases.
Chakroff said it is illegal for people to allow their dogs to roam.
"They have to be licensed and contained," he said.
He said the number of stray dogs on St. Croix, which the 2000 Census indicates has 53,234 people, is about what you'd expect for a place with 250,000 people.
Chakroff said it would take a lot of education to turn the tide. While cats and dogs have healthier lives if they're not left to roam, they also pose a public health problem and affect eco-tourism. Tourists do not expect to see a dead hawksbill turtle with its neck ripped out on Frederiksted Beach.
"It's a huge problem," Chakroff said.
The hawksbill turtle and the leatherback turtle are on the endangered species list. The green turtle and the loggerhead turtle are on the threatened species list.
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