Turtles Now World's Most Endangered Vertebrates - Over Half of Species Threatened With Extinction


Critically endangered Yunnan box turtle, the world's third most-endangered turtle species. Photo: Wikipedia.

Turtles and tortoises may not get the same sort of attention as the cuddlier and fuzzier animals of the world, but a new report from the Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group of the IUCN shows that these reptiles are in fact the most endangered group of vertebrate animals. Over half of the world's 328 turtles and tortoises are threatened with extinction. That breaks down thusly: Of the total 328 species there are 263 freshwater and terrestrial turtles and 58 tortoises; 54% of these are threatened. The world's seven sea turtle species were not covered in this report. Of these threatened species, 17 of the 25 most-endangered are found in Asia.

Hunting, Habitat Loss & Pollution, Pet Trade Main Turtle Threats
As for the main reasons for turtles becoming so threatened--keep in mind that threatened with extinction is different than being classified as endangered, critically endangered, etc.--the report lists a host of causes similar to those causing other species to become threatened: Unsustainable levels of hunting for both food and medicinal use, collection for the pet trade, pollution and habitat loss.

The pet trade in particular was singled out as being bad for the world's turtles:

Furthering the problem is a lucrative international black market in pet turtles and tortoises that has escalated prices of some of the more rare species into the tens of thousands of dollars. Rumors even exist that some of the rarest Asian species are now commanding prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Lonesome George, the last surviving member of the Pinta Island Tortoise subspecies. Photo: Wikipedia.

Since the report is hung on the hook of the world's 25 most-endangered turtles, here's the top of that list:

  1. Pinta Island Tortoise (Geochelone nigra abingdoni)--Extinct in the wild, well except for the perhaps 90 year old Lonesome George in the Galapagos.
  2. Red River Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)--Critically endangered, just four animals left in China.
  3. Yunnan Box Turtle(Cuora yunnanesis)--Critically endangered, last verified specimen collected in 1940, in the 21st century both male and female specimens were discovered being sold for pets in China, but there is doubt as the whether these were bred or collected wild.

Read the original report: Turtles in Trouble: The World's 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles, 2011
More on Turtles:
Epic Leatherback Turtle Migration Tracked by Satellite for First Time!
Thousands of Endangered Turtles Killed in Madagascar Despite Bans

Tags: Animals | Endangered Species

Best of TreeHugger