Out of all the endangered groups of vertebrates facing extinction the tortoise and fresh water turtle species are the most threatened. This was found by IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group in a study that revealed more than half of the total population under threat of extinction.
There are 328 species of tortoises and turtles in the world and 54 percent of these are likely to become extinct in a few decades because of pollution, destroyed habitats, indiscriminate hunting for food and use in traditional Chinese medicines. The illegal trade where turtles and tortoises are bought as pets for thousands of dollars is another grey area leading to their depletion.
“Turtles are disappearing fast and we are dealing with one of the most significant wildlife crises of our lifetime,” says Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA). Several species are down to just a handful of remaining individuals.
Out of the 328 species of tortoise and turtles, 263 are fresh water and terrestrial turtles, and 58 are species of tortoises. Seven turtles have not been mentioned in the report, ‘Turtles In Trouble’.
Asia has the Most ‘High Risk Species’
This report reveals the 25 endangered tortoises and fresh water turtles that are in extremely high risk of extinction. Seventeen of these are from Asia alone, including the species Batagur kachuga found in India. It is commonly known as Bengal Roof Turtle or Red-crowned Roof Turtle.
Mass scale exploitation is the number one reason for the present day status of these turtles and tortoise species. It is believed, that the very rare species of turtles, which are found in Asia command a price of thousands of dollars in the turtle black market. In Bangladesh, during a traditional festival close to 100, 000 wild turtles are caught and killed for consumption on a single day.
The number on species in the list is a species found in the Galapagos called the Pinta Island tortoise, which Charles Darwin used as a subject for his theory on “natural selection”. Aptly nicknamed ‘Lonesome George’ just one of its kinds now survives.
The report comments: “Ironically, Darwin and other travellers often ate many of the islands’ tortoises and released rats, goats and other animals, which significantly contributed to their decline.”
India’s Tortoise and Turtles in the List
Of all the species featured in the list, four are native to India. Apart from the Batagur kachuga that is Critically Endangered and has been placed in the top 25 ‘extremely high risk of extinction’ category, three other species at ‘high risk of extinction’ are,
- Manouria emys, Asian Forest Tortoise (Endangered)
- Nilssonia nigricans, Black Soft-shelled Turtle or Bostami Turtle (Extinct in the Wild)
- Pelochelys cantorii, Cantor’s giant softshell turtle or Asian Giant Softshell Turtle (Endangered)