One-Third of Freshwater Turtles Face Extinction

Sal holds a Political Science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
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Sadly, these turtles—Haitian sliders—face a bleak future, according to new research. (Photo: Brian Gratwicke / Creative Commons)

One-third of the planet’s 280 freshwater turtle species face extinction, according to a new study conducted by Conservation International.

An increasingly lucrative pet trade, hunting, and habitat loss are the primary reasons why.

Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk, the director of Conservation International's Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Conservation Programme, told the BBC that the turtle outlook is bleak.

"These are animals that take 15 to 20 years to reach maturity and then live for another 30 to 40 years, putting a clutch of eggs in the ground every year. They play the odds, hoping that in that 50-year lifetime, some of their hatchlings will somehow evade predators and go on to breed themselves. But if you take these animals out before they've reached 15 and can reproduce, it all ends there.”

Of the 10 most threatened species, the Red River giant softshell turtle is most in trouble. Only four individuals remain alive in the world. Sustained efforts to mate two captive animals in China have failed.

Like many other endangered species in Asia, many of the turtles teetring on nonexistence are valued for their purported medicinal properties.

The freshwater turtle market has grown so large that farms have been created to help meet the demand.

Still, for all the doom and gloom news, van Dijk says that it is not too late to reverse the trend.

"If we can eliminate the unsustainable collection from the wild, we have 80 percent of the battle [to prevent extinction of the turtles] won. Beyond that, it's a matter of habitat management for minimal impact on turtles and all the other wildlife in those habitats,” van Dijk said.

Click here for a photo gallery on the Top 10 threatened turtle species, according to Conservation International.

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