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What began as a biology class project for Amar Rana, took him to the backrooms of torture that provide the ingredients for exotic Chinese delicacies in Manhattan restaurants.

Making the rounds of Chinatown, Rana stumbled across inhumane conditions in which turtles and other marine life are kept and sold for consumption. “Frogs are frequently skinned alive, turtles have their shells ripped from their backs and have their intestines removed while still-conscious and live birds are placed in plastic bags for sale,” says Rana. Several of these turtles are threatened species called the diamond-back terrapin, explains Rana. “The conditons were horrific. All the turtles were stacked on top of each other in inhumane conditions. … that’s what hit me,” he says, adding, “At first it was only for my class project, but as I got more and more involved, it turned me into a crusader.”

Rana graduated from the Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus in May, yet he and his biology professor George Sideris are still working together on this project, trying to collect more data and information. They hope to publish a report in a periodical with mass appeal and a scientific paper. “Do not purchase food for consumption which is, or consists of, species which are threatened or endangered,” says Sideris. Rana echoes that sentiment. “The turtle has been around for 200 million years, longer than the oldest dinosaur. It is truly a living fossil. The less we buy (products of turtle origin) the more we put a dent in the turtle industry, for the good,” he implores.