WE REALLY LOSING THE WORLD'S TURTLES?
October 24, 2010
heard the following statement at a conference organized by the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service on the conservation status of turtles: "Turtles
are indeed in terrible trouble." The reason for such a bold and forbidding
statement is that "49 percent, or essentially half of all modern
turtles, are either already extinct or threatened with extinction."
Of the 334 species of the world's known species of turtles and tortoises,
which includes the 57 U.S. species, almost a dozen have become extinct.
This is appalling news for anyone who likes turtles and appreciates wildlife.
was made by Anders Rhodin, who is all about turtles. His talk, coauthored
with Peter Paul van Dijk of Conservation International, was the keynote
address. Among his turtle expert credentials, Rhodin is chair of the Tortoise
and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group of the International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and founder of the Chelonian Research Foundation
(CRF). CRF publishes the world's largest professional scientific journal
focused on turtles and tortoises. His role with IUCN alone qualifies him
to toll the bell signaling that turtles of the world, including the United
States, are in a serious plight. The turtle specialist group operates
as part of the IUCN's Species Survival Commission, which seeks the advice
of experts throughout the world to provide science-based conservation
recommendations about groups of plants and animals. Counsel from a specialist
group "is the recognized global authority" and results in the
official IUCN Red List "for the determination of global threat levels"
for each taxonomic group under consideration.
seven species of sea turtles, of which one or more are found in all oceans
except the Antarctic, the global distribution pattern of turtles might
surprise you. The regions with the highest concentration of turtle species
are the Amazon basin, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the
southeastern United States. Among countries, Mexico, Australia, and Brazil
each have a high diversity of turtles. And "among the nations of
the world, the USA has by far the richest turtle fauna." In fact,
some states, including Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia,
each have more turtle species than are found in all but a handful of nations.
nations in the categories of "good news" (having lots of turtles)
and "bad news" (having high numbers that are threatened) China
is singled out as "the nation with the highest total threat level
of their turtles." China is home to many species. Unfortunately,
most of them are on a steady path toward extinction in the wild. Vietnam,
Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, India, and Malaysia also rank in
the worldwide top 10 of the highest numbers of threatened species. Get
the picture? China, India, and most of Southeast Asia in between are eliminating
their turtles. The United States ranks 10th, which is not particularly
comforting even though we have the most species to begin with. According
to Rhodin, the five nations that "warrant the highest turtle conservation
efforts," based on criteria that include having species found in
no other nation, are China, Indonesia, the United States, India, and Mexico.
among turtle conservation biologists is that the Asian turtle trade is
the primary threat to the world's turtles. Turtles as food delicacies
are a social status symbol. And the notion that turtle meat has some completely
unproven medicinal values also drives the market. What is the extent of
turtle commerce? One investigation uncovered an exporting business that
was sending "about 25 tons of live turtles per week to China and
East Asia." No turtles on earth today can sustain that kind of commercial
harvesting impact. Extinction is the last rung on the ladder, and too
many turtles have already reached that step.
this: Most of the turtles native to China are commercially extinct in
the wild. The southern United States has more kinds of turtles than anywhere
else in the world. Where do you think turtle poachers will be coming to
get their next turtle shipment for China?
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