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Uptick in Pet Turtle Demand Drives Poaching, Risks 50% of Remaining Species into Possible Extinction

Growing demand for pet turtles is steadily fueling an uptick in poaching. According to experts, this may result in the extinction of 50% of the remaining species.

The illegal sale of reptiles online is a growing concern, according to Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at Providence’s Roger Williams Park Zoo.

In a recent wildlife raid, 16 turtle hatchlings the size of quarters were seized. These eastern musk turtles are infamous for spending a large portion of their lives in ponds and swamps and for producing an offensive odor when threatened.

Confiscated and Quarantined Tiny Musk Turtles

The little musk turtles were discovered being sold online by an intern with the Rhode Island Environmental Police. Each one costs only $20 according to its internet listing. The five-inch (13-centimeter) long, brown or black turtles have a yellow or white line running along the top of their heads and can live for decades.

In September, after planning an undercover purchase at the seller’s home, police arrested him. For illegally owning a reptile, the seller was fined $1,600. The turtles are currently housed in two plastic bins and are being kept in a clean, well-lit quarantine area at a zoo in Rhode Island in the hopes that they will soon be healthy enough to be released back into the wild.

Poaching Towards Extinction

Perotti claimed that there has been an increase in turtle poaching, which is becoming more ruthless and is causing thousands of turtles to leave the United States every year. He continued by saying that turtle populations couldn’t withstand such a blow from such a high rate of removal from the wild.

Wildlife trade specialists think that poaching, which is being fueled by a rise in pet demand in the US, Asia, and Europe, is a factor in the global extinction of rare freshwater turtle as well as tortoise species. Over half of the 360 ​​species of living turtles and tortoises, according to a study published in Current Biology, are in danger of going extinct.

Twelve proposals to strengthen freshwater turtle protection have been made in response to these concerns at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting being held in Panama from November 14 through November 25 where 184 nations are scheduled to attend .

Hopes for Banning, Restriction of Commercial Trade

It can be challenging to locate precise statistics on the turtle trade, especially the illegal trade. According to Tara Easter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan who studies the trade, the number of mud turtles exported commercially from the United States rose from 1,844 in 1999 to almost 40,000 in 2017 as well as from 8,254 in 1999 to over 281,000 in 2016.

The United States along with several Latin American countries referred to data from Mexico that showed that almost 20,000 turtles were confiscated, most from the Mexico City airport, from 2010 to 2022 in their CITES call to ban or restrict the commercial trade in over 20 mud turtle species.

Freshwater turtles are among the most trafficked animals in the world, and criminal groups that target them send the reptiles to black markets throughout Hong Kong as well as other Asian cities after connecting with buyers online. They are then sold as pets, to collectors, for commercial breeding, food, and traditional medicine, as well as for use in traditional medicine. Trade is either insufficiently or completely unregulated in many nations.

Read also: Janus the Two-Headed Tortoise Approaches 25th Birthday on Saturday

Poachers, Climate Change, Predators

The lucrative industry adds to the dangers that turtles already face because some species are sought after for their unique or colorful shells, which can fetch thousands of dollars in Asia. These include habitat loss, road fatalities, and predators consuming their eggs.

Because they target endangered species as well as adult breeding females, poachers are a particular problem, according to experts. Many turtle species, which have a lifespan of several decades, take ten years or longer to reach reproductive maturity.

According to Dave Collins, the Turtle Survival Alliance’s director of North American turtle conservation initiatives, the loss of significant numbers of adults, particularly females, can plunge turtle populations into a downward spiral from which they are unable to recover. The reproduction rate of turtles is incredibly low; they lay only a few eggs per year, AP News reports.

Responsible Private Ownership

Limiting captive breeding and legal trade to address declines in wild populations is counterproductive, according to the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, which promotes responsible private ownership as well as trade in reptiles and amphibians.

Native species removal, even to keep pets, has a significant impact, according to Harold Guise, a police detective specializing in environmental cases. Guise, who handled the case, added that We cannot even begin to measure the effects of the commercialization of wildlife until it has already taken place.

It served as a reminder to Perrotti, that the once-concentrated illegal trade in Asia is now increasingly occurring in his backyard.

Perrotti expressed his skepticism regarding the existence of a market for it and the idea that people were either mass producing or mass gathering these reptiles to profit financially. He continued by saying that the idea of ​​a $20 turtle is absurd because wildlife is not a commodity that can be sold for a profit, The Telegraph reports.

Related article: Zoo Finally Welcomes 41 Hatchlings After Two Decades of Waiting for Endangered Rare Turtles to Breed -San Diego

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