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.
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:
Advocate at the international policy level to reduce the trading of turtles, including against their use traditional Chinese medicine, where they're said to cure everything from high blood pressure to cancer.
Assist local law enforcement, including the training of customs officials and wildlife police on species identification.
Lead patrols to reduce poaching.
Work with local communities ensure both the community and the turtles/tortoises benefit from conservation actions.
Conduct nest protection and headstarting programs to support an increase in the number of juveniles entering the population.
At our New York facilities, particularly the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo, work to maintain a diverse group of turtles and tortoises that are critically endangered.
Our WCS Health Program goes into the field to test for known pathogens before turtles and tortoises can go from our captive breeding and/or headstarting programs back to the wild.
The WCS Health Program also provides confiscated turtles and tortoises with veterinary care so that animals can be returned to the wild as soon as possible.
35 of the 63 most endangered turtles and tortoises live in eight of our priority regions.
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.
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.
Steadfast efforts continue to prevent the extinction of the Giant Yangtze Soft Shell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), even with the news that the last known female of the species died on Saturday, April 13, 2019.