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CITES 16th Conference of the Parties:
Agenda focuses on increasing protection of tortoises and freshwater turtles
A record number of proposals for tortoises and freshwater turtles are on the agenda at the 16th CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Conference of Parties (CoP16). The United States, China, Vietnam, and Japan have submitted a total of 11 proposals to increase CITES protection by adjusting the CITES Appendices (rules for governing international trade in wildlife species) for nearly 50 tortoise and freshwater turtle species adversely affected by trade.
Tortoises and freshwater turtles are the most threatened of any major group of terrestrial vertebrates with an estimated 48 -54% of the world's 328 tortoise and freshwater turtle species significantly threatened with extinction. Major threats include the collection, trade and consumption of eggs, juveniles, adults and body parts for food and traditional medicine. With biological characteristics such as late maturity, limited annual egg production, and high juvenile and egg mortality make turtles extremely vulnerable to overexploitation. Human exploitation of adults leads to too few eggs being laid to survive to maturity. Likewise, human exploitation of eggs leads to too few hatching to survive to maturity. Such exploitation leads to population collapse. Turtles are also threatened due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation in addition to introduced invasive species, environmental pollution, and disease (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2013).
Dr. Teresa Telecky, Director of Wildlife for Humane Society International and CITES expert, explained that the tortoise and freshwater turtle proposals represent many years of international collaborative efforts on behalf these species. She said that “this record number of proposals really reflects the work that has been happening within CITES over the last eight or so years to focus on trade in freshwater turtles and tortoises” (Cota-Larson, 2013).
Vietnam submitted proposals for two turtle species, the Indochinese box turtle (Cuora galbinifrons ; Proposal 33) and the endemic Vietnamese pond turtle (Mauremys annamensis ; Proposal 35), to be ‘uplisted' from Appendix II to Appendix I and thereby increasing its protection status under CITES. Currently, being listed in Appendix II, the international trade of both species may be authorized with an export-permit from CITES and national certificates. If the proposals are accepted and the species moved to Appendix I, the international trade in specimens of the proposed species would be prohibited except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research.
The Bourret's box turtle (Cuora bourreti) and the Lesser Indochinese box turtle (Cuora picturata), also critically endangered and localized endemics to Central and South Vietnam (Stuart & Pharam, 2004), will also be protected by this proposal and added to Appendix I. Although they have been proposed to warrant as full species (Stuart & Parham, 2004) and this has been recognized by some, Proposal 33 for Cuora galbinifrons follows the Standard Reference for Turtles (Fritz & Havas, 2007) which recognizes C.bourreti and C.picturata as subspecies of Cuora galbinifrons .
Above: The main threat to the critically endangered Vietnamese pond turtle (Mauremys annamensis) is the over-collection for the Asian consumption trade, and is also used locally for medicinal purposes
Above: The Indochinese box turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) Although Cuora galbinifrons, Cuora bourreti and Cuora picturata are legally protected from exploitation throughout their range, turtles are collected for consumption and the international pet trade. Documented market trade volumes may be several orders of magnitude greater than total reported legal trade volumes.
UPDATE: Some of the world's most endangered turtles have been given additional protection at the 16th CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok on 8th of March. Proposals to increase the protection of 43 Asian freshwater turtles and tortoises were accepted by the government negotiators and adopted under CITES.
Unfortunately two proposals, CoP16 proposals 33 and 35, that would have protected some of Vietnam's most important endemics were rejected as the species were also present on Proposal 32. These proposals would have seen the Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) now considered by many three species, Cuora galbinifrons, Cuora bourreti and Cuora picturata of which the latter two are endemic and the endemic Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annamensis) to Appendix I. Vietnam has requested that the two species concerned, Cuora galbinifrons and Mauremys annamensis, be included in the Periodic review of the Appendices as a matter of urgency.
Proposal 32 which was jointly subitted by China and the USA and also lists both Mauremys annamensis and several Cuora species (see table below), was accepted and the parties agreed to annotate the Appendix II listings of the proposed speices with a zero trade quota on wild specimens for commercial purposes.
List of Asian turtle species with changed listings (Vietnamese species marked dark-green):
Vietnam and the US introduced the proposal to transfer Platysternidae (big-headed turtles) from Appendix II to Appendix I (Prop.36), arguing that big-headed turtles (Platysternon megacephalum) populations have decreased in markets, indicating that they are now rare in the wild, and are now for being difficult to breed in captivity, requiring unpolluted high mountain streams in closed canopy forests. The proposal was accepted and the big-headed turtle up listed to Appendix I, giving it the highest protection under CITES law.
Other Asian species, like the critically endangered Roti-island snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi) which was also proposed to be transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I, also retained their former listing in with an annotation for a zero export quota for wild specimens. Yet the proposal to transfer the critically endangered Burmese star tortoise ( Geochelone platynota ) from Appendix II to Appendix I was accepted and the species will also, like the big-headed turtle, receive the highest level of CITES protection.
However, some are concerned that the new protections for Asian turtles will result in traders now targeting freshwater turtles in the United States with shifting harvest pressure to the United States. To avoid this the United States proposed to list three native species: the spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), Blanding's turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) and the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin).
With so many tortoise and freshwater turtles being up listed it's a clear indication that the threats to turtles globally remains a high concern for many nations. While these positive results go along way to protection these species from international trade it should be remembered much of the trade remains illegal, hidden and undocumented in the southeast Asia region.
Press release by Sarah Wahl – Asian Turtle Program (ATP)
Date: 28th February 2013 - Updated 15th March 2013
Cota-Larson, R. (2013) CITES CoP16: Record Number of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles on the Agenda , [Online], Available: http://annamiticus.com/2013/02/21/cites-cop16-record-number-of-tortoises-and-freshwater-turtles-on-the-agenda/ [28 Feb 2013]
Fritz, U., and Havas, P. (2007) Checklist of Chelonians of the World, Vertebrate Zoology , vol. 57, no. 2, pp. 149-368
Stuart, B.L., and Parham, J.F. (2004) Molecular phylogeny of the critically endangered Indochinese box turtle ( Cuora galbinifrons ), Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution , vol. 31, pp. 164-177
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2013) Turtles and Tortoises: A Focus of CoP16 , [Online], Available: http://www.fws.gov/international/cites/cop16/turtles-and-tortoises.html [28 Feb 2013]