A woman charged with possessing and attempting to sell an endangered turtle entered a guilty plea in Kelowna court on May 26, despite alleging that she did not know it was illegal.
“She did not mean to have an endangered species at anytime,” said the defence lawyer for Monica and Dwayne Skublen.
The Skublens came into possession of the Western Painted Turtle after their friend found it in their yard and gave it to Dwayne, who then gifted it to Monica for her birthday, said the defence lawyer.
The court heard that the turtle, named Michelangelo, was a pet in the Skublen house for approximately nine years before the burden of caring for it became too strenuous for Monica, and she decided to get rid of it in April 2022. The couple had initially owned two turtles, but one had died a few years before.
Crown prosecution told the court that the Conservation Officer Service became aware of the turtle after it was listed on Castanet Classifieds for $200.
The defence lawyer said that Monica chose to sell the turtle, rather than give it away, to ensure that it went to a good home with people who were serious about caring for it.
An undercover conservation officer posing as a potential interested turtle owner contacted Monica through the listing and spoke to her on the phone.
Crown alleges that the officer told Monica that the possession and sale of Western Painted Turtles was illegal and could result in a fine and jail time. Monica allegedly said that she was not worried about the sale, since Michelangelo was a pet.
The undercover officer and Monica made plans to meet for the sale of the turtle. She was going to include turtle food and other care items in the sale.
At the meetup, Crown alleges that once again, the undercover officer told Monica that it was illegal to sell or own the painted turtle since the species is endangered.
Crown said that Monica told the undercover officer that she still wanted to sell the turtle.
In court, the defence lawyer said that Monica was not certain that Michelangelo was a a painted turtle at the time of the sale.
The undercover officer then gave Monica $200 in cash and was handed the turtle in a bucket, along with the care items, which they put into their vehicle and drove away.
Then, nearby conservation officers drove up with their lights on and placed Monica and Dwayne under arrest.
After the arrest, Dwayne gave a statement, saying that he did suspect that Michelangelo was an endangered painted turtle and had learned a few years prior that it was illegal to own the turtle. However, he said that Monica cared for the turtle and that they were given it by a friend.
The judge noted the discrepancy between Monica’s ignorance and Dwayne’s suspicion that the turtle was an endangered painted turtle. The defence lawyer said that Monica would never have listed the turtle for sale on Castanet “if she thought for a second that it was illegal.”
Michelangelo was then given to the BC Wildlife park who provided a statement to the court that the turtle was very small for its age.
The judge noted that while Monica cared for the turtle and may have tried to take good care of it, it is unlawful to own or sell wildlife, particularly an endangered species.
The judge sentenced Monica with a fine of $350, to be paid within a month. The fine was reduced since Monica entered a guilty plea early into the trial.
Conservation Officer Ken Owens spoke with Capital News outside the courthouse after the ruling.
He said that he is disappointed in the judge’s decision and hopes that the fine of $350 is enough to deter people from illegally trafficking wildlife.
He added that even with the best of intentions people often “kill them with kindness,” or inadvertently cause harm to the wild animals being kept as pets.
Owens said that there are only approximately 1,000 wild painted turtles in B.C., so protecting every last one is important to the survival of the species.