Lonesome George may be the world’s last remaining Abdington Island giant tortoise, but he is not alone in his plight. The Yangtze giant softshell has just four remaining individuals, and China’s yellow-headed box turtles number 150.
According to a new report co-authored by WCS working in conjunction with the Turtle Survival Coalition, many more turtle species will go extinct in the next decade unless drastic conservation measures are taken. The report lists the 25 most endangered turtle species from around the world, most decimated by illegal hunting and habitat loss. Among those turtles and tortoises listed, 17 live in Asia, 3 in South America, 3 in Africa, 1 in Australia, and 1 in Central America and Mexico.
Illegal hunting for turtles in Asia for food, pets, and traditional medicines is a particular problem, the report says.
“Turtles are being unsustainably hunted throughout Asia,” said co-author Brian D. Horne of WCS. “Every tortoise and turtle species in Asia is being impacted in some manner by the international trade in turtles and turtle products. In just one market in Dhaka, Bangladesh we saw close to 100,000 turtles being butchered for consumption during a religious holiday, and we know of at least three other such markets within the city.”
Better enforcement of existing trade laws, habitat protection, and captive breeding are all keys to preventing turtle species from going extinct while bolstering existing populations.
Liz Bennett, Vice President of WCS’s Species Program, said: “Turtles are wonderfully adapted to defend themselves against predators by hiding in their shells, but this defense mechanism doesn’t work against organized, large-scale human hunting efforts. The fact is that turtles are being vacuumed up from every nook and cranny in Asia and beyond.”
The report was released at a regional workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and WCS. Its authors include the Turtle Conservation Coalition, which is made up by IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservation Fund, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy/Behler Chelonian Center, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, WCS, and San Diego Zoo Global. Copies can be downloaded at www.turtlesurvival.org.