June 22, 2024

It is the case of a missing turtle.

And this is no ordinary beast. The huge snapping turtle, known to all as Shnappy, weighs an enormous 50lbs and is a fixture in the New York borough of Staten Island, where he has long resided in Clove Lakes Park.

And while the rest of New York struggles with many crises, from recent floods to perennial issues like crime and subway violence, it is the currently unknown whereabouts of Shnappy that has many on Staten Island worried.

Shnappy, and his almost-as-large friend Jeffrey, went missing two weeks ago, sparking a wave of conspiracy theories as to their fate. Many locals suspect poachers took the pair for soup, but no one really knows – no turtle thieves were caught on park security cameras.

“Anecdotally, we are aware that community members have discussed turtles allegedly being removed from this park, but we have not witnessed this occurring,” said parks department spokesperson Gregg McQueen. “NYC Parks has not directly received any specific accounts or 311 reports regarding people taking wildlife from Clove Lakes Park.”

“Wildlife plays an important role in our city’s ecosystem, and it is vital that we do all we can to protect the animals that inhabit our city’s parks and green spaces. It is illegal to remove, harm, or kill animals in parks. If New Yorkers see this activity, they should call 911,” he added by email.

But there’s little doubt that the disappearance of Shnappy, who was believed to be a male, and Jeffrey, believed to be a female, has left an emotional hole in Staten Island.

“Jeffrey has been here, like, forever,” said Natacha Beck, a hostess at the Stone House, a restaurant and wedding venue overlooking the lake. They, referring to alleged poachers, “would have to have known who he was”.

For Stone House, the giant turtles had been a marketing tool. But they were also clever enough to swim over whenever there are customers on the deck. “They’re not stupid,” said Bella Trembone, 20. “They see people sitting and come over for bread.”

“We definitely didn’t eat them here – we don’t have turtle on the menu,” she added. “They were part of our life, part of the the Stone House.”

At between 50 to 75 years old, Shnappy, according to the New York Post, was known for his sexual appetites. His mating with Jeffrey apparently made sounds like the “crack of a baseball” on a bat, according to the infamous city tabloid which is usually more obsessed with celebrity sexual shenanigans than those of turtles.

A parks department spokesperson said they assumed the pair were a couple because they swam around together.

If they were taken for their meat, Shnappy and Jeffrey would not be the first turtle-related crime. Five years ago, a Brooklyn wildlife group posted on social media that five women were questioned by police and the park’s enforcement officers for luring turtles out of the water and bagging them up.

But in recent months, summons have been issued to individuals illegally clamming on Staten island, with fines issued of up to $1,000. Unwise for other reasons too – Manhattan’s sewer system doubles as a storm drain and the harbor’s e coli count spikes after heavy rains.

Aside from turtles and clams, foraging in city’s parks is seeing an uptick in interest. “Wildman” Steve Brill, a vegan who leads foraging tours of Central Park, says his expeditions are now joined by as many as 100 people. In 1982, when he began, just one person signed up.

“People are more interested in the environment, in nature and ecology,” he says of the boom in urban nature exploration.

At this time of year, his customers will likely come across giant, purple-spored, and jetsetter puffballs; bears’ head, chicken and maitake mushrooms; nuts, including white oak acorns, gingko nuts, black walnuts; and sassafras, a root bark with medicinal properties once used to make root beer, and chickweed. The list goes on.

But while park officials may turn a blind eye to mushroom foraging, amphibious reptiles are different.

“I’ve not seen anyone hunting for animals in the parks,’ Brill says. “It must be very rare and very bad people. They can come on my tours and get all the renewable herbs, weeds, berries, nuts, mushrooms and dandelions they need. If people are poaching animals, it’s all new to me.”

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