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In Jakarta, wildlife monitors find a hotspot for the illegal tortoise trade

  • Indonesia’s capital has seen an increase in the sale of non-native species of tortoises and freshwater turtles that are prohibited for international commercial trade, according to a report by the wildlife-monitoring group TRAFFIC.
  • Growing demand for these species, coupled with Indonesia’s lax enforcement of customs regulation at international ports of entry and an outdated conservation act, have allowed the illicit international animal trade to grow, TRAFFIC said.
  • The group has called on the Indonesian government to improve the country’s conservation laws and regulations, and urged more stringent monitoring of the markets, pet stores and expos in Jakarta and across the country to document and assess the extent of any illegal trade.

JAKARTA — The sale of some of the most threatened tortoise and turtle species from around the world continues to flourish at stores and exhibitions across Jakarta, highlighting longstanding concerns about the illegal animal trade in the Indonesian capital.

A four-month survey by the wildlife-monitoring group TRAFFIC in 2015 found that 4,985 individuals from 65 different tortoise and freshwater turtle species were on display for sale at pet stores, animal markets, tropical fish markets and reptile expos in Jakarta.

Fifteen of the 65 species observed during the survey were native to Indonesia, only three of which were included in the country’s list of protected animals, according to the report published on March 26.

Radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and African spurred tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata) for sale at an expo in a shopping center in North Jakarta. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC.

The rest of the surveyed species were identified as endemic to countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Madagascar, the report said.

It added that nine species observed, only one of which was endemic to Indonesia, were currently listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), for which commercial international trade is prohibited.

“[This means] at least eight of these species were likely to have been illegally imported,” John Morgan, from TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and lead author of the report, wrote.

Two of these non-native species are the ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) and the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), both native to Madagascar and listed by the IUCN as critically endangered, or a step away from being extinct in the wild.

The study also identified an increase in the sale of non-native species of tortoise and freshwater turtles from previous surveys, in 2004 and 2010, which documented 26 and 35 non-native species, respectively.

Growing demand for these species, coupled with Indonesia’s lax enforcement of customs regulations at international ports of entry and an outdated conservation act, have allowed the illicit international animal trade to grow, TRAFFIC said.

The report also showed that non-native species were significantly more expensive overall than native species. Some of the non-native species were being offered at $1,535 a head, and the native species at $83 a head.

An alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) from North America on sale at a reptile expo in Jakarta in 2015. A higher number of North American species were found on sale in 2015 compared to previous two surveys. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC.

In 2008, Indonesia began to require import permits for all CITES-listed freshwater turtles and tortoises entering the country. Countries of origin must also notify Indonesian authorities before issuing an export permit.

However, existing national regulations — the 1990 Conservation Act and a 1999 government regulation on flora and fauna management — fail to prescribe any protections for non-native species. While Indonesia is a signatory to CITES, it has not ratified the convention by legislating it into law.

“This legal loophole hampers any law enforcement to counter illegal trade in these non-native species,” Morgan wrote. “Furthermore, existing laws covering native protected species are seldom enforced effectively, and traders are rarely prosecuted to the full extent possible under the law: thus illegal trade continues largely uninhibited given the lack of regulation and deterrence.”

Indonesia’s parliament and government are currently working on a revision to the existing national laws and regulations on conservation and animal protection.

Morgan suggested the revision of the conservation law should include legal protections for non-native CITES-listed species, as well as for threatened native species that are not listed as protected by the government. Examples of the latter include the Sulawesi forest turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi), listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

The wildlife group also called for more stringent monitoring of the markets, pet stores and expos in Jakarta and across the country by the government, NGOs and researchers, in order to document and assess the extent of any illegal trade.

“If this trade and the open markets that sell species illegally are not made a priority for law enforcement action, many of the currently threatened species will be pushed closer to extinction,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

Radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) on sale at an expo in North Jakarta. Signs prohibiting the taking of photos are visible. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC.

According to a 2008 report by TRAFFIC, the supply and demand of freshwater turtles and tortoises appears to be increasing throughout Southeast Asia.

“Indonesian authorities should increase communication and co-operation with countries known to be source locations or transit points for smuggled animals entering the Indonesian market, such as Madagascar, the USA, Thailand, Malaysia and China to disrupt international trade chains and focus law enforcement efforts on key traders and species of concern,” Elizabeth John, senior communications officer at TRAFFIC, told Mongabay in an email.

More than 50 percent of the world’s 356 known species of tortoises and turtles are currently threatened with extinction, or are nearly extinct, a new report warns. Loss and degradation of habitat; hunting for meat and eggs, or for traditional medicines; and the pet trade, both legal and illegal, are largely driving the decline of these reptiles.

“There are many species at risk from trade, but tortoise and freshwater turtles are one group of species that do not receive the same attention as other more high-profile or iconic species,” John said. “Jakarta has been regularly shown to be a hotspot for trade in these species over the last decade.”

Radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) with prices painted on their shells, at an exhibition in 2015 in Jakarta. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC.

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