Turtles were considered evil in ancient Egypt. Locals apparently still haven’t forgot.
Human desire for the rare and exotic repast knows no boundaries. And while most Middle Easterners are happy eating domesticated animals such as the cow, and chicken, there are no limits on what they are willing to eat, and offer for dinner. Just recently a rare, and endangered 550 pound sea turtle estimated to be about 90 years old was saved from being an Egyptian dinner.
The lucky turtle, according to the Washington Post (via AP) the lucky reptile was picked up in a market in Alexandria, where its “owner” was offering to slaughter it. Inspectors got wind of the potential sale and handed the turtle over to the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.
I met a famous Israeli cancer researcher who told me he ate lion. We all know about the problem with shark finning for shark fin soup in the United Arab Emirates. And if you follow Green Prophet you’ll notice that the region has some destructive passion for keeping wild animals at home – like dolphins in swimming pools. While I am more of a vegawarian than a full-out vegetarian, I do believe that the less of the animal kingdom we eat, the better able we are to protect the habitat that threatens them.
According to a study done by Mohamed A. Nada, team Manager of the “Save the Sea Turtle” Project in Alexandria 10 years ago, it was found in part 1 of this study that the main consumers of sea turtle products were the fishing community and the uneducated individuals living around the fishmarket. In his report: “They are considered to be the native Alexandrians; an ethnic society with their own language, accent, traditions, diet and personality, very keen to preserve their cultural identity, discouraging villagers coming from the nearby countryside to work, socialise and marry amongst them.
“They have, however, been unable to protect their culture from new immigrants. Sea turtle meat and blood consumption has decreased slowly, however it still occurs.”
The study included both loggerhead and green turtles and describes how the turtles are kept on their backs, alive, without food even for more than a week until they are sold.
Speared by kings – known as “evil”
Turtles were not revered in ancient Egypt and this could explain the interest in eating them. According to Wikipedia, “As an aquatic animal, the turtle was associated with the Underworld. The turtle was associated with Set and so with the enemies of Ra who tried to stop the solar barque as it traveled through the underworld.
“The turtle was associated with night, and so came to symbolize darkness and evil. Since the XIXth Dynasty, and particularly in the Late and Greco-Roman periods, turtles were known to have been ritually speared by kings and nobles as evil creatures.
In modern times, from a legal point of view, Egypt is a signatory to four International Conventions that include the protection of marine turtles.
“African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources” (Algeria, 1968).
“Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species” (Bonn, 1979).
“Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” (CITES) (Washington, 1973)
“Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution and its Protocols” (Barcelona, 1976)
I came across two massive, stinking and dead sea turtles on the Mediterranean Coast last year. I still wonder how they died, and why they died as a couple.
Image of ancient sea turtle from the Brooklyn Museam