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Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 3:13-14
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

Scientists Say Half of Asia’s Turtles Endangered
TRAFFIC Press Release

TRAFFIC Press Release

Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA — The number of critically endangered freshwater turtles has more than doubled in just the last four years, according to a report released today by TRAFFIC, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF), and other conservation groups. With three-fourths of Asia’s freshwater turtles now listed as threatened, and over half considered endangered, scientists and conservationists are calling for far more effective measures to protect these animals, which are heavily exploited in the region primarily for food and traditional medicine.

According to TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Senior Programme Officer Peter Paul van Dijk, softshell turtles are especially popular as a luxury food, fetching prices which may be six times the price of lamb or chicken. “In addition, turtle shell is traded to supply the traditional Chinese medicine industry, which uses it in a variety of applications. The turtle jelly made from the shell is claimed to have cancer-curing properties, and is consumed as a general health tonic. Imports of turtle shells into Taiwan alone comprise, on average, over 30 metric tons per year, and the total trade may add up to several times this amount.”

The report, consisting of proceedings from The Workshop on Trade in Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Asia, held last year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, documents the threats facing the species and recommends actions to address the growing crisis. Organized by TRAFFIC, WCS and WWF, the workshop, brought together over 40 regional turtle experts from 16 countries, primarily within East, South and Southeast Asia.

According to the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, as well as the Asian Turtle Trade Working Group, of the 90 species of Asian freshwater turtles and tortoises, 74% are considered threatened. Over half of Asian freshwater turtle and tortoise species are endangered, including 18 critically endangered species, and one that is already extinct: the Yunnan box turtle Cuora yunnanensis. According to scientists, this animal probably vanished decades ago but has only now been formally declared extinct.

The workshop participants urged that all currently recognized turtle species native to Asia be listed in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) and that some species be transferred to Appendix I of CITES, which would prohibit all international trade in the species.

A proposal to regulate the trade in all nine species of Asian box turtles under Appendix II of CITES was adopted at the recent meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, held last April. Appendix II listing of a species requires that international trade be regulated through a system of permits.

In addition, a resolution was adopted recognizing that an increasing number of freshwater turtle and tortoise species are threatened by trade, especially in Asia. The resolution called for increased efforts to work cooperatively to control illegal trade and take steps to ensure the trade is sustainable. The resolution also called on the CITES Secretariat to host a workshop to further explore the threats posed by trade and work towards solutions that ensure the conservation of the species.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species released last week listed 24 turtle species worldwide as critically endangered, compared to ten species in the last assessment in 1996. “With the number of critically endangered species more than doubling in just the last four years, it is evident that the situation is deteriorating rapidly,” van Dijk said.

The workshop and proceedings present information on the status of more than 80 individual species at national levels; map trade routes and types of demand; analyze legislative and enforcement frameworks protecting turtles; and assess national and regional threats to turtle populations posed by the trade. Among the recommendations found in the proceedings is a thorough review and improvement of national legislation for effective protection of turtles in the region as well as for prompt enforcement of all local, state and national regulations and legislation concerning the conservation of turtles. The participants also urged that more research be done on the trade and greater public awareness efforts be made to highlight the threats facing these species.

“Several organisations and individuals are involved in practical conservation action,” van Dijk said. “However, overall, tortoises and freshwater turtles do not yet receive the support and recognition that marine turtles receive even though their conservation situation is, in many ways, much more serious. Without immediate action, we face the likelihood of losing some of these species forever.”

For more media information, please contact Sabri Zain at TRAFFIC International (United Kingdom) by tel. +44 1223 277427 or E-mail: sabri.zain@trafficint.org.

“Asian Turtle Trade: Proceedings of a Workshop on Conservation and Trade of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises in Asia” (Chelonian Research Monographs, Number 2, 2000) is published by the Chelonian Research Foundation, in association with WCS, TRAFFIC, WWF, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.