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Turtles in Trouble



Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011Of the 263 species of freshwater and terrestrial turtles(i.e., not tortoises or sea turtles), one species is alreadyExtinct, with 117 (45%) of the remaining 262 speciesconsidered Threatened by the IUCN, and 73 (28%) eitherCritically Endangered or Endangered. Of the 58 species oftortoises (family Testudinidae), seven are already Extinctand one is Extinct in the Wild, with 33 (66%) of the remaining50 species considered Threatened, and 18 (36%)either Critically Endangered or Endangered, yielding 41(71%) of all tortoise species either already gone or almostgone. Of the seven species of sea turtles, six (86%) are consideredThreatened, and five (71%) are Critically Endangeredor Endangered. In comparison, tortoises have nearlyas high a percentage of threatened species as sea turtles,and freshwater turtles are not far behind.In terms of analysis of geographic patterns of the 2011Top 25 tortoise and freshwater turtle species [1–25], if weconsider continents, 17 species (68%) are from Asia, 3(12%) are from Africa, 3 (12%) from South America, andone each (4% each) are from North America and Australia.If we consider countries, 6 species (24%) occur in China,4 (16%) in Indonesia, 3 (12%) in Vietnam, and 2 (8%) inMadagascar. If we expand this geographic analysis to the2011 Top 40 [1–40], if we consider continents, then 25 species(63%) are from Asia, 7 (18%) from Africa, 4 (10%)from North America, 3 (8%) from South America, and one(3%) from Australia; if we consider countries, then 9 species(23%) occur in China, 7 (18%) in Vietnam, 5 (13%) inMadagascar, and 4 (10%) in Indonesia.In terms of analysis of taxonomic patterns of the 2011Top 25 species [1–25], if we consider families, 13 (52%)are Geoemydidae, 4 (16%) are Testudinidae, 3 (12%) areChelidae, 2 each (8% each) are Trionychidae and Podocnemididae,and one (4%) is the monotypic family Dermatemydidae.If we expand this taxonomic analysis to the 2011Top 40 [1–40], then 19 (48%) are Geoemydidae, 9 (23%)are Testudinidae, 3 (8%) are Chelidae, 4 (10%) are Trionychidae,2 each (5% each) are Podocnemididae and Emydidae,and one (3%) is the monotypic family Dermatemydidae.If we consider species on the 2011 Top 25, then 5 each(20% each) are from the Asian genera Cuora and Batagur(Geoemydidae). If we expand this analysis to the 2011 Top40, then 9 (23%) are Cuora, 5 (13%) are Batagur, and 3(8%) are Asian Chitra (Trionychidae).Clearly, Asian species (most notably from China andVietnam, but also from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, India,Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and the Philippines)of the family Geoemydidae, and especially of thegenera Cuora and Batagur, are at the highest general riskof extinction. Also at very high risk of extinction are allfive of the endemic species of Madagascar.The regional pattern of high extinction risk for Asianspecies is primarily because of the long-term unsustainableexploitation of turtles and tortoises for consumptionand traditional Chinese medicine, and to a lesser extentfor the international pet trade, as identified and describedin detail in our earlier volume on the Asian Turtle Trade(van Dijk et al. 2000). In addition, there is an expandingChinese domestic pet trade driven by high-end investment-orienteddemand for accumulation of Cuora specimensthat is causing increased pressure on remainingpopulations of these species.The Way ForwardThis presentation of the world’s most endangered turtlesis intended to help raise awareness about the criticalsurvival status of this well-known group of animals thathave thrived on our planet for millions of years, but whonow face an extremely high extinction risk within our lifetimes.We could quickly and easily lose several of theseimportant and charismatic animal species unless we takedecisive action to safeguard their future. This list of themost endangered turtles should be used as an effectiveguideline to set urgent priority actions for conservation andresearch on these species, although in no way should it discourageconservation or research on any other less endangeredspecies.Despite the gains made by the partner organizationsin the Turtle Conservation Coalition, as outlined earlier,we still need more progress and sustainable successes. Ourprime focus to date has been mainly on the crisis situationsin Asia and Madagascar, but turtles all over the world needour help and conservation action. Resources are always alimiting factor, but together we have succeeded in increasingsupport to these efforts. We will continue to work hardto generate more and broader-based support and to makea more permanent difference for the survival of turtlesworldwide.It is our intention to revisit this Top 25+ list withina four-year time frame in order to update relevant statuschanges. At that time we expect to report further conservationsuccesses and hopefully begin to take some turtlesoff this list. Let us all do whatever we can to help make adifference.LITERATURE CITEDBe h l e r, J.L. 1997. Troubled times for turtles. In: Van Abbema, J.(Ed.). Proceedings: Conservation, Restoration, and Managementof Tortoises and Turtles – An International Conference. N.Y.Turtle and Tortoise Society, pp. xviii–xxii.Bu h l m a n n, K.A., Ak r e, T.S.B., Iv e r s o n, J.B., Ka r a pata k i s, D., Mitte r m e i e r, R.A., Ge o r g e s, A., Rh o d i n, A.G.J., va n Dijk, P.P., a n dGi b b o n s, J.W. 2009. A global analysis of tortoise and freshwaterturtle distributions with identification of priority conservationareas. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 8(2):116–149.Centre f o r He r p e t o l o g y a n d Ma d r a s Cr o c o d i l e Ba n k Tr u s t. 2006.Conservation Action Plan for Endangered Freshwater Turtlesand Tortoises of India. 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