Apparently a popular craze of Japanese children is “Mushiking: King of Beetles” which is viewed as a cartoon, read as a novel and played as a card game. According to a report in the Turkish press Today’s Zaman (1 September), quite a war is raging between rival German and Japanese traders whilst the Amanos Environmental, Conservation and Solidarity Association is also weighing in to try and stop the illegal trade in stag beetles. The Amanos Mountains in the Hatay province of Turkey – near the Syrian border – has a particularly coveted variant, because of its “impressive antlers”, of the stag beetle Lucanus cervus and this is where the unregulated trade is booming.
In the early days of the trade Germans were paying villagers between 5-30YTL per beetle (approx. £2-12) but were then selling them on to the Japanese for up to $3,000 each. A nice little profit for the Germans, not entirely appreciated by the Japanese who then came up with ingenious plans to outdo their rivals. Having arrived in Turkey one method the Japanese employed was to buy a cheap collection of beetles mounted on card and to replace the dead specimens with live, sedated beetles (sedated for 20 hours with “special chemicals.”) Another way of smuggling them out live was in nappies – presumably being worn by babies and, presumably, also sedated. Once in Japan said revived beetles could be bred in laboratories.
Why so important to have live beetles, besides the obvious profit to be made from breeding? Because the beetles are first and foremost prized as “pets”, kept in boxes and fed “special food” until they die (life span about 2 months). Once expired they are turned into keyrings or become part of a collection. It seems the Turks discovered this illegal trade by chance when “trying to help a Japanese team which was visiting the region”. At the time of writing the president of the Amanos Environmental, Conservation and Solidarity Association, who wants to “stop the illegal trade and protect one of Turkey’s assets”, was still awaiting a response from the Agricultural Ministry.
At the opposite end of the country the Ministry of Tourism protects the indigenous mountain goat and various other prized animals by outlawing hunting to locals but encouraging “eco-tourism” in the form of ‘bounty’ hunting by foreign tourists who pay a premium fee for such privileges.
Meanwhile, more news from Hatay province and nearby Sanliurfa in the South East where people are telling of having to work as seasonal farm labourers a long way from home. One reason given is lack of water for irrigation of their own land leading to food shortages and another that there is a general lack of jobs in their own area. Many of them travel as large family groups to the Black Sea region to pick cotton or fruit taking with them tents, bedding, cooking pots and pans, buckets, water containers, in fact everything they will need. At this time, the end of the season, many are returning home – a journey of 12 hours or more – not by bus which would cost over £20 a head but in shared, open lorries carrying 2 or 3 families, in total over 50 people and costing in the region of £8 a head, a huge saving for a large family group.
The reason that this article was considered newsworthy was because there have been a number of serious accidents recently involving these ‘people-carriers’ resulting in many fatalities of seasonal workers. To quote one of the returning workers, “we came in trucks, we’ll return in trucks, we can’t even earn enough to pay our transportation costs. There are too many workers and not enough work. If we had jobs in our home towns we wouldn’t come here.” Besides the appalling conditions of the journey one man also commented on the treatment suffered at the hands of the agents. “The agents cheated us. They said jobs and accommodation were ready and waiting for us but they weren’t, and then they take 2.5YTL (a pound) from everyone of us for each day’s work.” (Probably more than 10%).
For the sake of profit any lengths are acceptable.