Animals living without food or water for at least nine days, that’s what a state inspector found at a popular South Florida Asian market.
The animals were being sold for food in the seafood section at New York Mart in Sunrise. Seafood manager Jason Tan is now charged with keeping the animals in unsafe, unsanitary or neglectful conditions. It’s a relief to customer Mariela Calandra.
During a recent visit to the market for Asian vegetables, Calandra said she was shocked by what she saw. She said she was so troubled by what she called inhumane conditions, she took photos of the animals.
"I know it's just a frog, just a turtle, just a crab, but it's a live animal," said Calandra.
Calandra said she doesn't have an issue with these animals being sold as food but calls their living conditions animal abuse.
Inspectors with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) call it a crime. They inspected the store in May and found live turtles being sold without the required state permit. They also found the turtles packed so tightly in a Styrofoam container they couldn't move.
"They had no access to food or water, as a matter a fact, we found two of the turtles that were already dead," said officer Jorge Pino, a spokesperson for FWC.
The inspectors filed three criminal charges against the seafood manager, including keeping wildlife in a cage or enclosure that was too small.
"The turtles need to be in a big enough cage where they're able to stand up, roll around, without touching the sides or touching another animal," said Pino.
New York Mart did not return our phone calls. Outside the market, NBC 6 caught up with Michelle Jiang, described as the human resources manager in a FWC report. She would not answer our questions about the accusations and threatened to call her attorney.
Later Jiang called us and said she was a translator, and not responsible for what goes on inside the store.
"I have never seen animals living in a condition like this before," said Susan Kelleher, an exotic animal veterinarian in Broward.
NBC 6 Investigators showed Calandra's photos to Kelleher.
"They are literally piled upon one another, there is no source of food. This would be extremely stressful, uncomfortable and these animals would quickly succumb to illness and infection," said Kelleher as she looked at the images.
Kelleher said besides the living conditions, these animals can also spread disease.
"They're likely to shed salmonella when they are stressed, because their immune system isn't functioning as well, because they're stressed. And they're more likely to be overcome by salmonella."
Based on Facebook photos posted in 2013 and 2014 showing images of frogs sold at New York Mart, the crowded conditions are nothing new at the store. Calandra said she is hopeful something will change at the store now that the state is taking action.
State inspections of facilities that sell animals such as turtles are triggered by consumer complaints. As for Tan, according to FWC, New York Mart seafood manager, Jason Tan, could face up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine for each of the three violations.