Photo via Pandiyan, Flickr
Conservation International has released a new report that spells out a bleak future for the world's freshwater turtles: A full 1/3 of the 280 known species currently face extinction. Evidently, a lucrative pet trade, hunting of turtles for food, and habitat loss are the key contributors to turtles' "catastrophic decline". The good news --what little there is, anyway -- is that the rapid decline can yet be turned around with some key action.Like many other endangered species in Asia, many turtles now facing extinction are valued for their purported medicinal properties. The market for some species of freshwater turtle commonly consumed as medicine has in fact grown so large that farms have been created to help meet the demand. But numbers continue to decline from hunts in the wild as well.
Especially problematic for the turtles is their lengthy lifespan, and that it takes many turtles 15 years to reach maturity, when they can breed. If turtles are hunted and removed from the breeding pool before then, the entire population suffers.
The BBC also reports that "Habitat loss as a result of river-damming for hydro-electricity is another major concern." The news org further documents the plight of some of these turtles:
The species in deepest trouble is probably the red river giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei). There are only four individuals remaining alive in the world. Efforts to get two long-term captive animals in China to breed have not met with success. Two batagur species - the red-crowned river turtle and the Myanmar river turtle - have been hit particularly hard by collectors.And there are dozens of stories just like this, of species on the brink. So what's that hope business I was talking about? It lies in the fact that the greatest contributor to the demise of these species is the exotic medicine trade. Dr van Dijk of Conservation International, tells the BBC that "All the tonnage of turtle that people want to consume can be satisfied by farming. If we can eliminate the unsustainable collection from the wild, we have 80% of the battle won. Beyond that, it's a matter of habitat management for minimal impact on turtles and all the other wildlife in those habitats."
Pinpointing the problem and moving towards an effective solution are two different endeavors, of course, and the latter seems a long ways off for now. But the more people are educated about the devastation wrought by the exotic medicine trade, the greater chance that action can arise to stop it in time.