Red Crowned River Turtle
The freshwater turtles of this earth are plunging into extinction thanks to loss of habitat, pet trade and being caught for food. Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk, Director of Conservation International’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program said: “The key problems these animals are facing are changes to their habitats – in particular because of the damming of the rivers where they live for hydro-electricity, on top of hunting for food and a very lucrative trade in rare turtles as pets.”
He continued: “More than 40% of the planet’s freshwater turtle species are threatened with extinction – making them among the most threatened groups of animals on the planet. Their decline is an indicator that the freshwater ecosystems that millions of people rely on for irrigation, food and water are being damaged in a manner that could have dire consequences for people and turtles alike.”
Image: Jennifer Howeth
10. Coahuila Box Turtle
These turtles are called box turtles because the front and back sides of their shell close up just like a box. Most species live on land, but this one is permanently in fresh water in the springs and marshes of Cuatro Cienegas in northern Mexico, a desert oasis that is under threat thanks to continued pumping of water for agricultural as well as residential use. In addition, much of the land is being converted to agricultural use.
9. Annam Pond Turtle Mauremys annamensis
This species only lives in central Vietnam and after intense hunting and collecting for the food trade in China in the ’90s, only a handful of Annam pond turtles are left. On the good side, there are many in captivity and many captive turtles have been reintroduced to the wild.
8. The Bog Turtle
This tiny little turtle, 4 inches long in the shell, lives in the eastern U.S. foothills. Its unique habit of burrowing like a mole for insects, worms and other food is more difficult now that the land has increasingly been converted to agricultural use rather than keeping the spring meadows and other small marshes of its specialized habitat. At last count, 98% of its land had been converted and there are just a few small scattered populations left.
7. Southeast Asian Giant Soft Shelled Turtle
You can’t tell from this photograph but this turtle is one of the largest in the world, sometimes weighing up to a quarter ton. It only survives now in two small rivers of western Thailand and Indonesia, its habitats destroyed because of damming and pollution as well as collecting and hunting the turtles themselves.
Image: Henk Zwartepoorte
6. Yunnan Box Turtle
This lovely turtle was considered extinct until 2005 but then a small group was found in China’s Yunnan province. The location is still kept secret as scientists are hoping it will be the start of a conservation breeding program. Prices on the black market for anyone who manages to get one is 10,000 dollars.
Image: Thomas Rainwater
5. Central America River Turtle
This vegetarian turtle is essentially unchanged since the days the dinosaurs roamed the world. Unfortunately, it is such a prized catch for food, especially during holidays, that collectors charter planes into Guatemala to get them and then fly out.
Image: Anders G.J. Rhodin, M.D
4. Roti Snake Necked Turtle
This is a case that epitomizes the greed of man. While most turtles are in danger because of habitat destruction and hunting for food, this turtle was only discovered in 1994 on the island of Roti in Indonesia. There was such a demand by the pet trade around the world that by 2000, it had been collected into near extinction. The slow process of captive breeding for reintroduction is its only hope now.
3. Myanmar River Turtle
Myanmar river turtles were thought to be extinct from 1935 to rediscovery in 1993, only a dozen exist in the upper Chindwin River of Burma, down from a large population because of hunting and habitat destruction.
The Myanmar river turtle’s eggs are now being collected and raised at the Mandalay Zoo for reintroduction into the wild.
2. Red Crowned River Turtle
Once widespread, there is now only one viable population on the Chambal River in India. Eggs and adult turtles were collected for food and of course, habitat changes have affected the turtle decline as well.
1. Red River Giant Soft Shell Turtle
The Red River Giant Soft Shell Turtle is the most endangered turtle of all, with only four left alive in the world. Two of them have been paired up in China and produced eggs but they have never hatched. A third is at Hoan Kiem Lake, Vietnam and revered as a symbol of its independence. The fourth was held hostage by a fisherman after a dam burst and flooded its river. He only released it to conservationists after long negotiations. Luckily, all went well and the turtle was released back to his native wetland.
Extinction of these turtles would be a huge loss for the world and as Dr. Tracy Farrell, the leader of Conservation International’s freshwater team says, a whole new look needs to be taken at managing freshwater ecosystems. When damming one river upstream may seem fine for the immediate area, the results can be catastrophic further downstream.
Peter Paul van Dijk added: “If we don’t act now to protect the habitats that support these creatures and take stronger action to tackle both the international and domestic markets in these animals for pets and food, we stand a very real chance that we will lose them forever.”