At the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), proposals were put forward to restrict trade in 44 Asian turtle and tortoise species, as well as three North American pond turtle species. These proposals were mostly led by the U.S., although some of the suggested amendments were presented jointly by the U.S. and China, marking the first time that these two countries have worked together to conserve reptiles.
Government negotiators at the meeting have accepted the proposals, which have now been adopted under the CITES agreement. This has been viewed as a victory for the conservation of reptiles, and is a welcome step towards saving these threatened species.
“We are extremely heartened by today’s vote to give greater protection to these highly imperiled species,” said Bryan Arroyo, head of the U.S. delegation to the CITES 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16). “More than half of the world’s freshwater turtles are threatened with extinction, yet they continue to be traded, unsustainably, for food, as pets, and in traditional medicines. We’ve taken a significant step forward today to begin managing that trade.”
The acceptance of the proposals means that trade in the 44 Asian species and 3 North American species will now be more carefully regulated, and this result has come just in time. According to a 2011 report published by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Turtle Conservation Coalition, nearly 70 percent of the world’s 25 most endangered turtles are found in Asia, where the reptiles are in high demand for meat and other products including traditional medicine. For example, Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle, also known as the Yangtze giant softshell tortoise, is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and is one of the species which will benefit from the new proposals.
With the depletion of Asia’s turtle populations, harvesting has shifted to the U.S., where there is concern for native turtle species such as the diamondback terrapin, which is increasingly under threat. It is hoped that the newly adopted regulations will play a part in managing turtle harvesting in the U.S. before it becomes a bigger issue.
The joint submission of two proposals by China and the U.S. has been highlighted as a big event, demonstrating remarkable cooperation between the countries for increased protection for a number of Asian turtle species.
“This signals that the Chinese government is committed to being serious about conservation. It’s a leap forward for both countries in terms of conservation,” said Arroyo.
Various campaign groups were also pleased with the outcome, with charity Care for the Wild releasing a statement urging pet owners to remember that the trend for housing exotic pets has a price, and that these creatures belong in the wild.
The CITES CoP16 runs until the 14th March.
Read more on this story at BBC News – Turtle ‘victory’ at wildlife meeting and Mongabay – Turtles win greater protection at CITES meeting.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author