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Box turtles in Asia imperiled by massive trade

Massive international trade in Southeast Asian Box Turtles (Cuora amboinensis) has driven the species to near-extinction in parts of Indonesia, according to a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The species, which is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable to extinction due to depletion and its low reproductive rate, is being traded at 10 to 100 times legal levels. The turtles are used for meat and in Traditional Chinese Medicine in Asian countries, and exported as pets to the US, Europe and Japan. The report estimates that at least 2.1 million turtles are harvested annually, many times Indonesia’s official annual export quota of 18,000 turtles.

“The number of Southeast Asian Box Turtles currently traded is certainly ten times the official export quota, and probably nearer 100 times it,” said Dr Sabine Schoppe, author of the new report, “Status, trade dynamics and management of the Southeast Asian Box Turtle Cuora amboinensis in Indonesia [PDF].”

© Chris R Shepherd / TRAFFIC

“The current level of illegal exploitation will result in Southeast Asian Box Turtles being systematically wiped out across Indonesia, indications of which are already obvious at collection and trade centers.”

“The Southeast Asian Box Turtle has historically been considered common, but is currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” added Dr Anders Rhodin, Chair of the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. “If present trends of massive overharvesting and unsustainable illegal trade continue, this formerly common species will soon be Critically Endangered and could follow the passenger pigeon into the annals of conservation failures. We cannot afford to lose any more of these animals. We need to stamp out illegal trade in this and all other overexploited species before it’s too late.”

The report recommends cracking down on illegal trade and setting sustainable harvest limits. It suggests weak enforcement of wildlife laws can be overcome through better training and more co-operation between Indonesian enforcement authorities and their counterparts in importing countries.

Status, trade dynamics and management of the Southeast Asian Box Turtle Cuora amboinensis in Indonesia

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