(Bangkok, Thailand) – World governments agreed by consensus today to afford increased protection to a total of 45 turtle species. With these decisions, all southeast Asian freshwater turtle species are now listed on the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and a number of the most threatened species have been granted increased levels of protection.
The proposals were the result of cooperative efforts by China, the United States, and Vietnam. Dr. Ronald Orenstein, author of Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History and a member of the SSN Board, thanked the Parties for their forward-looking actions and congratulated China, the largest consumer of wild turtles for food and traditional medicines, for leading the efforts to further the conservation of these imperiled animals.
“Turtles and tortoises are the world’s most endangered group of vertebrates - over half of all turtle species are threatened or endangered. Southeast Asia has more turtle species than any other region in the world”, said Dr. Orenstein, “and in no part of the world are more turtle species endangered by illegal and unregulated trade. It is particularly fitting that the Parties have made these decisions here in southeast Asia.”
Recent economic growth in China has resulted in massive exploitation of these species, primarily for food and traditional medicine. Many Asian species are also threatened by overcollection for the pet trade. Up until now, turtle poachers have stayed one step ahead of CITES, shifting from one species to another as populations became exhausted or certain species were listed for additional protection. For this reason, China and the United States wisely proposed listing all of the remaining Asian species of softshell turtles and Asian pond turtles under CITES. Vietnam and the United States successfully proposed protection for the unique Big-headed Turtle, the only member of its southeast Asian family.
Parties agreed to establish a zero quota for one of the world’s rarest turtles, the Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle meaning an end to legal commercial trade. Also listed on CITES, thanks to efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were three North American species, the spotted turtle, Blanding’s turtle and the diamondback terrapin. These species are in demand overseas for the pet trade and for human consumption.