Feb 22

The plight of our planet’s tortoises and turtles has never been worse according to a newly released report, “The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles – 2011.” 

The report highlights the 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, explaining that they will all become extinct in the next few decades without concerted conservation efforts.

Photo of male Pinta Island tortoise - Lonesome George - in clearing

Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta Island tortoise.

Authored by the Turtle Conservation Coalition, the report was released at a regional workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). 

Number one on the list is the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii), which is in fact the rarest reptile in the world. Sadly only a single male of this species, ‘Lonesome George’, remains alive today.

Photo of Red River giant softshell turtle

An enormous softshell turtle with a shell length of over 1 metre, the Red River giant softshell turtle is number 2 on the list.

Close behind is the Red River giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) of China and Vietnam. With only four animals left, the threat of extinction hangs over this species. 

Of the 25 most endangered turtles, over two-thirds (17 species) are from Asia, due to decades of massive exploitation in the region. Although evolutionary marvels, their armoured shells no longer ensure their survival against intensive collection.

Photo of male ploughshare tortoise with head retracted into shell

Endemic to Madagascar, the ploughshare tortoise has been traded as far back as the 8th century.

“Turtles are being unsustainably hunted throughout Asia,” said co-author Brian D. Horne of WCS. 

“Every tortoise and turtle species in Asia is being impacted in some manner by the international trade in turtles and turtle products. In just one market in Dhaka, Bangladesh we saw close to 100,000 turtles being butchered for consumption during a religious holiday, and we know of at least three other such markets within the city.”

Photo of batagur baska

The genus Batagur comprises one Endangered species and five Critically Endangered species, including Batagur baska.

Worldwide, the hunting of turtles is at vastly unsustainable levels. Furthering the problem is a lucrative international black-market trade in pet turtles and tortoises, which has escalated prices of some of the rarer species into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Better enforcement of existing trade laws, together with habitat protection and captive breeding are all crucial in bolstering existing turtle populations and preventing turtle species from going extinct. 

To read and download the report, visit Turtle Survival Alliance

Explore ARKive’s turtles and tortoises.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Laura Brown (February 22nd, 2011 at 5:13 pm):

    I was just wondering – since the Pinta Island tortoise is clearly finished as a species, with no hope of reproducing, should it be classified as “extinct” or “functionally extinct” rather than “endangered”?