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The Asian Turtle Crisis – a Sobering Update – Part 1

Cuoras Species HeadshotsHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The 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

Please write in with your questions and comments. 

 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

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

Conserving the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizi): why good intentions must be paired with knowledge

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

The desert tortoise was at one time collected in huge numbers for the pet trade.  Unfortunately, most were not properly cared for, and survival rates were abysmal.  This, combined with massive habitat loss in the American Southwest, led all states within its range to adopt protective legislation, and to its listing with CITES and the IUCN.

Unwittingly Introducing Pathogens

Many people cooperated – releasing their pets or, through various organizations, rehabilitating injured tortoises and then turning them loose.  Unfortunately, a respiratory disease commonly afflicting captive tortoises took hold among wild populations, and more harm than good resulted from the rescue and release efforts.

Incomplete Habitat Protection

On a grander scale, the habitat protection granted the tortoises often failed to take into account a unique twist in the species’ life history.  In the northern portion of their range, desert tortoises migrate to hilly areas at the onset of cold weather and hibernate in communal burrows that are 15-35 feet in length.  These long-established burrows are essential to winter survival, as a burrow of suitable length (15+ feet) cannot be constructed by a single tortoise in one season. 

Setting aside areas where the tortoises were observed to forage and nest was an admirable step, but ultimately fell short of what northern populations required.  The hibernation sites, often far-removed from foraging areas, were not always taken into consideration.

Both problems have largely been rectified, but only at the cost of lives and time.  The key point to be taken here is that we must all read, exchange information and observe…either of the above might have been identified by anyone who looked closely enough – pet keeper or field biologist alike. 

Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

A California Department of Fish and Game report on the desert tortoise’s  natural history is posted at:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=gopherus+agassizi+natural+habitat&spell=1

Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons

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