Today, May 23rd, is World Turtle Day. It is a day of celebrating the many unique and ancient species of turtles and tortoises around the world, and bringing awareness to their need for protection. Of the 207 species of turtle and tortoise alive today, 129 of them are listed by IUCN as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. That's an incredibly 62% of species!
The species listed here are only a few of the many critically endangered turtle and tortoise species. They illustrate that though these species wear a suit of armor, they are incredible fragile and in need of protection by humans, from humans.
This tortoise is native to, and most abundant in southern Madagascar. The threats to the species include loss of habitat, being poached for food, and being over exploited in the pet trade. If left on their own in healthy habitat, they can live well over 100 years old (the oldest known member of the species lived to 188!).
Painted Terrapin, or the Saw-jawed Terrapin
The species is found in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Between 1986 and 1996 it moved from "vulnerable" to "critically endangered".
Madagascar Angulated Tortoise, or Ploughshare Tortoise
This species has been poached for the illegal pet trade and the current population is somewhere around 200 mature animals in the wild. The threat of poaching is still increasing.
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
This is the rarest sea turtle, and can be found in the Atlantic ocean along the eastern coast of the United States, from as far north as New Jersey down to the Gulf of Mexico. Shrimp trawls are the biggest danger to this species, as well as habitat loss as females return every year to a single beach to lay eggs.
Philippine Pond Turtle
This species has interesting ginkgo-shaped vertebral scutes on its shell, and a pale stripe across its head. First described in 1920, the species was feared to be extinct until rediscovered in 2001. The illegal pet trade is a serious threat to the species.
Flattened Musk Turtle
This turtle has an incredibly limited habitat -- it lives in a single drainage system in Alabama, which is only about 7% of its historic habitat. Though the danger of further habitat loss has ceased, there is no clear way forward for restoring habitat. The largest threats are now habitat pollution and sedimentation from nearby open coal mining.
Yellow-headed Box Turtle
The species is native to the central Chinese Anhui Province, and is considered one of the most 25 endangered species of turtles in the world. Fewer than 150 remain in the wild. The Bronx Zoo celebrated the hatching of 5 captive-bred yellow-headed box turtles back in December of 2012.
Indochinese Box Turtle
This freshwater turtle is found in Southeast Asia, in high altitude woodland areas. There is a variety of subspecies, notable through differences in the coloring on the carapace.
McCord's Box Turtle
This species is native to China and was not described until 1988 from the Chinese pet trade. It was not until 19 years later that it was found in the wild and able to be reported on. It is a highly sought species in traditional Chinese medicine and turtle hobbyists, and this demand is why it is now one of the most endangered Chinese endemic turtle species.
This is the largest of all living turtle species, and is the fourth largest modern reptile -- only three species of crocodilians beat it for size. Rather than a bony shell, it has a covering of skin and oily flesh, which is part of how it gets its common name. Found in oceans all over the world, this wide-ranging turtle species is often caught as bycatch by fisheries. That and ingestion of plastics like balloons and plastic bags that look like jellyfish are the largest threats to the species.
This sea turtle species faces a range of threats, including over-exploitation of eggs at nesting beaches, habitat loss and degradation, the taking of juveniles and adults in foraging areas, and being caught as bycatch by fisheries.
As we mentioned before, these are only a few of the many critically endangered turtle and tortoise species worldwide. It is clear why there is a World Turtle Day -- they need help! Really, could you look at that baby bog turtle pictured at top (yes, critically endangered) and not want to help?? There are many beautiful, important and interesting species; to learn more about how to protect them check out some of these organizations: