Tortoises & Freshwater Turtles

No other group of vertebrates is facing extinction like turtles. Nearly half of the 330 species are imminently threatened. Ten have populations of less than 100 individuals.


Habitat destruction, in particular the loss of wetlands, has caused many populations to decline to unsustainable levels. Recovery efforts are complicated by the international trade in the rarest species as pets. These turtles fetch a high price, which makes it difficult for rural community members to pass on the economic windfall. They are traded for traditional medicine and as meat, as well, and harmed by the spread of new pathogens.

Our Goal

WCS is committed to the recovery of turtle species. Our strategies to accomplish this center on two key components: reducing the number of adults lost and increasing the number of juvenile turtles entering into the population annually.

Specific tactics include:

Why WCS?

8 regions

35 of the 63 most endangered turtles and tortoises live in eight of our priority regions.

1,000 hatchlings

The Magdalena River Turtle is among the many species we’ve reintroduced or supplemented the wild population of recently. In 2015 alone, we let over 1,000 hatchlings of this species go in Colombia.

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

On Our Strategies

Assist Local Law Enforcement

In Vietnam and China, WCS is actively involved in training and supporting wildlife police and customs officials in the monitoring of the illegal wildlife trade. Specific attention is given to species identification. In Cambodia, WCS's regular patrols in the western plains confiscate turtles and tortoises as they are attempted to be smuggled into Vietnam.

Lead Patrols to Reduce Poaching

In Myanmar, WCS protects the nests of the last ten Burmese roofed turtles left in the wild. This has resulted in over 600 juveniles being produced. Releases of the first head-started turtles began in 2015 and they were being monitored with radio-telemetry for dispersal and survival. In Cambodia, WCS protects the last population of the Southern River terrapin. In 2015, head-started juveniles were released with acoustic transmitters to monitor the movement of the turtles between freshwater habitats and the brackish mangrove forests of the river's mouth.

Work with Local Communities

In Colombia, over a thousand hatchling Magdalena River Turtles were released as part of a community effort to protect the turtles' nests from floodwaters. And in Ecuador, WCS works with local indigenous communities to manage five artificial nesting beaches for the giant Amazonian river turtle. More than 2,000 turtles have been returned to the wild to date.

At Our Facilities, Work to Maintain Critically Endangered Turtles and Tortoises

It is the hope that WCS can link the turtle and tortoise breeding programs at the city zoos with the field programs in the near future, particularly for species that are functionally extinct in the wild and where captive breeding may be the only means of preventing the extinction of the species.

Provide Veterinary Care to Confiscated Turtles

In 2015, the WCS Health Program was involved in the largest single species confiscation of critically endangered freshwater turtles on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. There they helped provided veterinary care to almost 4,000 Philippine Forest Turtles.

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