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The Asian Turtle Crisis – a Sobering Update – Part 2

Chinemys reevesiiAsia’s freshwater turtles face an unprecedented extinction crisis, which may soon result in the loss of 90 or more species.  In 2001, I joined other turtle enthusiasts in south Florida to help process nearly 10,000 turtles of many species that had been confiscated on route to food markets in China.  The magnitude of the response to their plight heartened me, but today, unfortunately, we are still fighting an uphill battle.  Please see Part 1 of this article for details.  Following is a bit more on this sad situation.

The Problem

The capture of wild turtles for food markets located in China and elsewhere in Asia represents the greatest threat to their continued existence (please see article below).  The damming of rivers for hydroelectric power is also a significant problem, and rare turtles that command high prices in the pet trade are still being collected.

Many conservationists believe that the food-market demands can be met by farmed turtles, and indeed Chinese Softshell Turtles and other species are being raised commercially…but much more effort needs to be put into this aspect of turtle conservation.

Ongoing Rescue Efforts

Zoos are trying – I can, for example, recall breeding the Painted Terrapin (Callagur borneoensis, please see photo) and the Giant River Terrapin (Batagur baska) at the Bronx Zoo in the mid 80’s – but both are still critically endangered and rarely bred in captivity; money and space are in short supply.

I’ve always favored cooperative efforts between zoos and responsible private individuals – indeed, the 2001 rescue operation was only possible due to the generosity of a “non-biologist” who hosted the effort on his property, and 2 private individuals in NY each personally cared for 2,000-2,500 turtles at one point – but movement in that direction is slow at best.  In fact, my sense of the situation is that many zoos are pulling back from earlier commitments to work with concerned private turtle-keepers.

Callagur borneoensisA number of laudable efforts, often undertaken at great expense, have been launched by private turtle-interest groups.  The Asian Scholarship Program for Chelonian Conservation, originally conceived by the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society, is a prime example.

Further Reading

Mentioned in Part 1 but bears repeating here – an excellent article on the status of Asia’s turtles along with photos from food markets in China – READ THIS!

NY Times article providing background information on the SE Asian turtle trade.

ThatReptileBlog Turtle Care and Conservation Articles  


Chinemys reevesii image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Σ64
Callagur borneoensis image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Open Cage

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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