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Will the illegal trade of the critically endangered Philippine forest turtle lead to its extinction?

Endangered Species International (ESI) conducted ongoing monitoring at markets known to sell pets and wild animals in Manila, Philippines, to monitor the status of the trade of one of the most endangered turtle in the world: the Philippine forest turtle [Siebenrockiella (Panayenemys) leytensis]. The critically endangered Philippine forest turtle is endemic to the Philippines, occurring only on one major island, Palawan, and its small satellite island, Dumaran.

During many visits, ESI staff encountered between two and ten Philippine forest turtle for sale at each market totalizing 171 animals over the 4-year period. The turtles were not sold openly as they were prior to 2005; instead, they were kept hidden in the back of stores and brought to potential buyers only when it was felt that there were no risks involved. “We continuously observed S. leytensis in all major pet markets in Manila, demonstrating that the domestic illegal trade remains rampant and has not decreased over the years, that brings this unique species closer to extinction” said Pierre Fidenci, head of Endangered Species International.

Philippine forest turtle. Photo courtesy of Endangered Species International

Illegal trade of the Philippine forest turtle at a pet store in Manila. Photo courtesy of Endangered Species International

In April 2009, the species was sold for between 50 and 75 USD per turtle, but could be negotiated down to 30 USD for smaller individuals. Turtles could be ordered within one or two weeks but that large-sized turtles were difficult to obtain. Most of the turtles sold for the domestic pet trade were sub-adults and young adults. It was rather uncommon to find large individuals (greater than 30 cm in carapace length) for sale.

Overall, illegal collecting of the Philippine forest turtle is the most prominent factor contributing to the sharp decline of the species. Despite international and national laws designed to prevent exploitation of the critically endangered Philippine forest turtle, this species has been sold illegally for domestic and international trade for almost eight years now. Trade is still rampant and the species is being sold in the Philippines, North America, Europe, and Japan.

The ongoing level of trade highlights the failure of past and current activities to stop or reduce illegal trade. Targeting known illegal traders in Palawan should be a priority, but no legal actions have yet been undertaken by local authorities or other concerned organizations. “We have been watching the numbers going down and now it is time for real actions to stop the illegal trade of the Philippine forest turtle” said Pierre Fidenci.

Endangered Species International.

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