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The Asian Turtle Crisis – a Sobering Update – Part 1

Cuoras Species HeadshotsThe term “Asian Turtle Crisis” was coined in 1997, when photos of thousands of rare turtles being slaughtered in a Guangzhou, China food market propelled the tragic plight of Asia’s freshwater turtles into the conservation spotlight.  The private turtle-keeping and zoo communities were quick to take action, and a number of fine organizations and programs resulted.  In 2001, I traveled to south Florida to help rehabilitate and place 7,500-10,000 turtles that had been confiscated in China.

Hard Work Pays Off

In south Florida I worked day and night alongside dedicated folks from the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society and other herp-oriented organizations, internationally-known turtle biologists, private turtle fanciers and zoo colleagues.  The marathon effort was a grand success, with more turtles saved and placed in good homes than anyone would have dared hope upon first seeing their wretched condition.  Given the passion, funds and other support that the situation aroused, the future looked promising.  Unfortunately, 9 years later, the situation remains very bleak.

90+ Species Face Extinction

Recent studies by Conservation International (please see this article) reveal that at least 1/3 of the world’s 280 turtle species, including most of those found in Southeast Asia, are in imminent danger of extinction.  Two photos on the homepage of the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society, taken 12 years apart in Guangzhou, China food markets, illustrate, graphically and tragically, that little has changed.

Red River Giant SoftshellSeveral turtle species are represented by single populations numbering 12-50 individuals; only 4 specimens of the Red River Giant Softshell (Rafetus swinhoei, please see photo) are known to exist, the status of many Asian Box Turtles (Cuora spp., please see photo) can not even be determined, but several species have not been seen in years…the list goes on.

In Part 2 of this article we’ll take a look at the causes of the recent catastrophic declines in turtle populations and what is being done to reverse the trend. 

Further Reading

Excellent article on the status of Asia’s turtles along with disturbing photos from food markets in China – READ THIS!

Turtle Survival Alliance Programs


Cuoras Species Headshots image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Torsten Blanck


  1. avatar

    Thank you Frank for another great article. People need to know what is going on in our troubled world. At the New England Wildlife Center we will be launching a series of monthly lectures designed to inform the general public about the conservational crises that plague our planet. Of course all of them are either directly or indirectly created by man. I will be presenting the Global Amphibian Extinction Crisis in June. I think Joe Martinez will be presenting in February.

    • avatar

      Hello Kurt, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks so much for the kind words; great idea on the seminars, so much ground to cover. The turtle and frog situations are 2 that have really hit home for me, as I’ve had hands-on involvement and have seen changes even in my lifetime, not to mention the stories of older, more experienced folks with whom I’ve worked. I’ve posted several frog crisis related articles, please let me know if you need any info or references.

      I’ve been in touch with Joe since you led me to him last year – had been over 20 years since we had worked together! Thanks again,

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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