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Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011

  • Chelonian Research Foundation
  • Walde Research & Environmental Consulting
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Turtles in Trouble:
The World’s 25+ Most Endangered
Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Pr e s e n t e d b y t h e
tu r t l e Co n s e r v a t i o n Co a l i t i o n
iuCn/ssC to r t o i s e a n d Fr e s h wa t e r tu r t l e sP e C i a l i s t Gr o u P ,
tu r t l e Co n s e r va t i o n Fu n d , tu r t l e su r v i v a l al l i a n C e ,
tu r t l e Co n s e r va n C y / be h l e r Ch e l o n i a n Ce n t e r , Ch e l o n i a n re s e a r C h Fo u n d a t i o n ,
Co n s e r v a t i o n in t e r n a t i o n a l , wi l d l i F e Co n s e r v a t i o n so C i e t y ,
a n d sa n di e G o Zo o Gl o b a l
ed i t e d b y
an d e r s G.J. rh o d i n , an d r e w d. wa l d e , br i a n d. ho r n e ,
Pe t e r Pa u l v a n di J k , to r s t e n bl a n C k , a n d ri C k hu d s o n
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Tu r T l e Co n s e r v a T i o n Co a l i T i o n [rh o d i n , a.G.J., Wa l d e , a.d., ho r n e , B.d., v a n di J k , P.P., Bl a n C k , T., a n d hu d s o n , r.
(ed s .)]. 2011. Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011. Lunenburg,
MA: IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservation Fund, Turtle Survival Alliance,
Turtle Conservancy, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and
San Diego Zoo Global, 54 pp.
Printed by MTC Printing, Inc., Nashua St., Leominster, MA, 01453 USA. Published February 2011.
Hardcopy available from IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group,
c/o Chelonian Research Foundation, 168 Goodrich St., Lunenburg, MA, 01462 USA.
Digital pdf copy available for download at
Hardcopy and digital pdf copy also available from other Turtle Conservation Coalition participants:
Turtle Conservation Fund ( and Turtle Survival Alliance (
Cover Photos: Staring Extinction in the Face
Top Left: The last living Pinta or Abingdon Island Giant Tortoise, Lonesome George, Chelonoidis abingdonii, from the
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador; this iconic species faces certain extinction unless captive reproduction with some partially
hybrid female can be accomplished. Photo by Anders G.J. Rhodin.
Top Right: The last known wild Red River or Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle, Rafetus swinhoei, a male near Hanoi, Viet-
nam; one of only four known living animals, of which only one is a female. A pair in a captive breeding program in
China offers the last hope for the survival of this species. Photo by Tim McCormack.
Bottom Left: One of the very last known Northern River Terrapins, Batagur baska, a male in breeding color, from the Sun-
derbans, Bangladesh; functionally extinct in the wild, with just a few hundred animals remaining, this one was saved
from a local consumption market in order to be placed into a breeding colony. Photo by Rupali Ghosh.
Bottom Center: One of the very last known Yellow-headed Box Turtles, Cuora aurocapitata, from China, functionally ex-
tinct in the wild, with probably less than 150 animals left in the wild and disappearing rapidly; a few animals are being
bred on commercial farms in China and a few captive breeding centers. Photo by Gerald Kuchling.
Bottom Right: One of the less than approximately 200 remaining wild adult Ploughshare Tortoises or Angonokas, Astrochelys
yniphora, in Baly Bay National Park, Madagascar; the species faces certain extinction in the wild unless rampant
poaching and illegal international trade of the remaining population can be halted. Photo by Anders G.J. Rhodin.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Turtles in Trouble:
The World’s 25+ Most Endangered
Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Presented by the
tu r t l e Co n s e r v a t i o n Co a l i t i o n
iuCn/ssC to r t o i s e a n d Fr e s h wa t e r tu r t l e sP e C i a l i s t Gr o u P ,
tu r t l e Co n s e r va t i o n Fu n d , tu r t l e su r v i v a l al l i a n C e ,
tu r t l e Co n s e r va n C y / be h l e r Ch e l o n i a n Ce n t e r , Ch e l o n i a n re s e a r C h Fo u n d a t i o n ,
Co n s e r v a t i o n in t e r n a t i o n a l , wi l d l i F e Co n s e r v a t i o n so C i e t y ,
a n d sa n di e G o Zo o Gl o b a l
Edited by
an d e r s G.J. rh o d i n , an d r e w d. wa l d e , br i a n d. ho r n e ,
Pe t e r Pa u l v a n di J k , to r s t e n bl a n C k , a n d ri C k hu d s o n
lu n e n b u r G , Ma, usa
Fe b r u a r y 2011
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
With Grateful Acknowledgment for Contributions
of Text, Photos, or Other Help by
be n an d e r s , er n s t h.w. ba a r d , Ch i t t a r a n J a n ba r u a h , to r s t e n bl a n C k , an d r e w br i n k e r ,
ra F e M. br o w n , ku r t a. bu h l M a n n , Ja M e s r. bu s k i r k , al e J a n d r a Ca d a v i d , Jo h n Ca n n ,
en G he n G Ch a n , Pa u l Cr o w , at h e r t o n d e vi l l i e r s , C. ke n n e t h do d d , Jr., Ca r l a C. ei s e M b e r G ,
ru P a l i Gh o s h , er i C v. Go o d e , Cr i s ha G e n , do u G he n d r i e , ho a n G va n th a i , br i a n d. ho r n e ,
Je n n i F e r G. ho w e t h , ri C k hu d s o n , bo n G G i r. ib a r r o n d o , Jo h n b. iv e r s o n , Ja M e s o. Ju v i k ,
a. ro s s ki e s t e r , Ge r a l d ku C h l i n G , Mi C h a e l la u , ri C h a r d e. le w i s , Ma x i M i l i a n s. Ma u r e r ,
wi l l i a M P. MCCo r d , ti M MCCo r M a C k , Me l v i n Me r i d a , ru s s e l l a. Mi t t e r M e i e r , an n e t t e ol s s o n ,
vi v i a n P. Pá e Z , st e v e n G. Pl a t t , Pe t e r Pr a s C h a G , Pe t e r C.h. Pr i t C h a r d , hu G h r. Qu i n n , ri C k re e d ,
an d e r s G.J. rh o d i n , Pe t e r ri G e r , Ma u r i C e ro d r i G u e s , sa b i n e sC h o P P e , sh a i l e n d r a si n G h ,
Gr a C i a sy e d , Ch r i s ta b a k a , tr a C e y tu b e r v i l l e , Pe t e r Pa u l v a n di J k , ri C h a r d C. vo G t ,
an d r e w d. wa l d e , wi n ko ko, la n C e wo o l a v e r , Zh a n G Fa n G , a n d Zh o u ti n G
as well as Additional Support by the following Individuals and Organizations
Pi e t e r bo r k e n t , Ma t t h e w Fr a n k e l , a n d Ge o r G e Me y e r a n d Ma r i a se M P l e
• • •
iuCn (in t e r n a t i o n a l un i o n F o r t h e Co n s e r v a t i o n o F na t u r e )
iuCn sP e C i e s su r v i v a l Co M M i s s i o n a n d re d li s t Pr o G r a M M e
Cites (Co n v e n t i o n o n in t e r n a t i o n a l tr a d e i n en d a n G e r e d sP e C i e s o F wi l d Fa u n a a n d Fl o r a )
Fo r t Wo r t h Zo o • Fr a n k e l Fa m i l y Fo u n d a t i o n • Pa n a P h i l Fo u n d a t i o n
sa n di e G o Zo o in s t i t u t e F o r Co n s e r v a t i o n re s e a r C h
u.s. Fi s h a n d wi l d l i F e se r v i C e
The last known wild Red River Giant Softshell Turtle, Rafetus swinhoei, near Hanoi, Vietnam, when
captured briey in 2009 before being returned safely to its wetland habitat. Photo by Hoang Van Thai.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Turtles in Trouble:
The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Editorial Introduction and Executive Summary
anders G.J. rh o d i n 1, andrew d. walde2, brian d. ho r n e 3,4,
Pe t e r Paul v a n diJk5, to r s t e n blanCk6, and riCk hudson7
Turtles are in serious trouble. They are among the
world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half of
their more than 300 species threatened with extinction7. We
commonly hear about the plight of other animal groups;
however, turtles are much more at risk of impending extinc-
tion than birds, mammals, amphibians, or sharks and rays,
and paralleled among the larger vertebrate groups only by
the primates (Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2010, www., Hoffmann et al. 2010).
Turtles throughout the world are being impacted by a
variety of major threats, to which many are gradually suc-
cumbing. They are being collected, traded, and eaten or
otherwise used, in overwhelming numbers. They are used
for food, pets, traditional medicine—eggs, juveniles, adults,
body parts—all are exploited indiscriminately, with little
regard for sustainability. On top of the targeted onslaught,
their habitats are being increasingly fragmented, destroyed,
developed, and polluted. Populations are shrinking nearly
everywhere. Species worldwide are threatened and vulner-
able, many are critically endangered, others teeter on the
very brink of extinction, and a few have already been lost
forever, with eight species and two subspecies having gone
extinct since 1500 AD (see table, p. 5).
The world’s living tortoise and freshwater turtle spe-
cies are a remarkable evolutionary success story. There are
about 328 currently recognized modern species (452 taxa;
Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2010). Turtles have exist-
ed for about 220 million years, since the Late Triassic Era,
outlasting their early contemporaries, the dinosaurs. Turtles
and tortoises have evolved a remarkable armored shell that
has remained relatively unchanged through evolution, and
while other vertebrate species have evolved and gone ex-
tinct, the basic body form of turtles has remained an obvious
testament to their success and their ability to survive mil-
lions of years of natural selection. However, the previously
successful survival adaptations of turtles, including delayed
sexual maturity, high fecundity combined with high juve-
nile mortality, and a long adult life-span with low natural
adult mortality, have left turtle populations vulnerable to
new and devastating threats posed by human exploitation
and habitat loss.
Turtles and tortoises are major biodiversity compo-
nents of the ecosystems they inhabit, often serving as key-
stone species from which other animals and plants benet—
Desert and Gopher Tortoises in North America, Giant River
Turtles in the Amazon basin of South America, Pig-nosed
Turtles in Australia and New Guinea, Giant Tortoises in the
Galápagos and Seychelles islands, and large Flapshell and
Softshell Turtles in Asia—all represent major components
in their environments and are part of the web of interacting
and co-dependent species that constitute healthy function-
ing ecosystems.
Without turtles and tortoises, those ecosystems and
the critically important human-welfare ecoservices they
provide, would gradually suffer from the loss of biodi-
versity and degrade in ways still incompletely understood
and difcult to predict. No turtle species should be lost
to extinction, as none are expendable or unimportant.
Increasingly, however, human activities are endangering
many turtle and tortoise species while driving others into
We are facing a turtle survival crisis unprecedented in
its severity and risk. Humans are the problem, and must
therefore also be the solution. Without concerted conserva-
tion action, many of the world’s turtles and tortoises will
become extinct within the next few decades. It is now up to
us to prevent the loss of these remarkable, unique jewels of
Without intervention, countless species will be lost. We
need to work together for the survival of turtles throughout
the world, to understand the risks and threats turtles face, to
1Chair, IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group,
Chelonian Research Foundation, 168 Goodrich St., Lunenburg, Massachusetts 01462 USA [];
2Turtle Survival Alliance, c/o Walde Research and Environmental Consulting,
8000 San Gregorio Rd., Atascadero, California 93422 USA [];
3San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, 15600 San Pasqual Valley Rd., Escondido, California 92027 USA;
4Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, New York 10460 USA [];
5Deputy Chair, IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group,
Conservation International, 2011 Crystal Drive, Suite 500, Arlington, Virginia 22202 USA [];
6Turtle Survival Alliance Europe, Forstgartenstr. 44, Deutschlandsberg, 8530 Styria, Austria [];
7President, Turtle Survival Alliance, 1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Worth, Texas 76110 USA []
7 As determined by the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Tur-
tle Specialist Group (TFTSG) and noted on the IUCN Red List
of Threatened Species or in TFTSG draft assessments (Turtle
Taxonomy Working Group 2010,
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
dene survival and conservation objectives, and to develop
the successful management strategies and organizational al-
liances that can help us reach those goals.
Recent Progress and Successes in
Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Conservation
The many organizations and individuals that comprise
the international turtle conservation community have been
working hard for many years to help reverse the threats to
turtles and tortoises, and successes and major steps forward
are being generated by these efforts.
The Early Years. Two early catalysts that gener-
ated conservation action for turtles, primarily in Asia, were
the clarion warning alarms sounded by John Behler (1997)
and the subsequent 1999 workshop on Asian Turtle Trade
organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society (in col-
laboration with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, World Wildlife
Fund, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The
publication of these proceedings (van Dijk et al. 2000) by
Chelonian Research Foundation provided the rst com-
prehensive documentation of the emerging and vast Asian
Turtle Crisis.
Identifying this regional crisis led to dedicated con-
servation actions by governments, inter-governmental
agencies, and conservation NGOs to improve the regula-
tion of turtle trade. It also tasked scientists to identify pri-
ority populations and species-specic conservation actions.
There were two early and important results of this work-
shop. First, through action led by the IUCN/SSC Tortoise
and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG), it helped
stimulate and mobilize CITES (Convention on Internation-
al Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to
take direct and much-needed action on trade regulations for
Asian turtles (Rhodin 2001).
Second, it led to another major catalytic workshop
in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2001, organized by Rick Hudson
and hosted by the Fort Worth Zoo (in collaboration with
the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group
[CBSG] and the TFTSG, with many sponsors), at which
a unied concept of turtle conservation efforts focused on
captive breeding was formulated, and the Turtle Survival
Alliance (TSA) was created (CBSG 2001). Since then, the
TSA has become the leading global turtle organization for
implementing in-situ eld projects, as well as developing
assurance colonies for some of the most endangered tor-
toises and freshwater turtles.
Also created in these early years was the Turtle Conser-
vation Fund (TCF), a joint strategizing and funding mecha-
nism founded in 2002 as a partnership initiative of Conser-
vation International, the TFTSG, and the TSA.
Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF). — An early global
conservation Action Plan for tortoises and freshwater turtles
had been produced in 1989 by the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and
Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG 1989), with a
second expanded one 13 years later in 2002 by the Turtle
Conservation Fund, in collaboration with Conservation In-
ternational, the TFTSG, the TSA, and several other afli-
ated partners (TCF 2002).
Early Catalytic Workshops on Conservation of Asian Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles (left: Cambodia 1999; right: Texas 2001).
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles that have gone Extinct
since 1500 AD, with approximate extinction dates.
Viesca Mud Turtle
Kinosternon hirtipes megacephalum
Mexico (Coahuila); ca. 1970
Daudin’s Giant Tortoise
Aldabrachelys gigantea daudinii
or Dipsochelys dussumieri daudinii
Seychelles (Mahé?); ca. 1850
Floreana Giant Tortoise, Charles Island Giant Tortoise
Chelonoidis nigra
Ecuador (Galápagos: Floreana [Charles]); ca. 1850
Fernandina Giant Tortoise, Narborough Island Giant Tortoise
Chelonoidis phantastica
Ecuador (Galápagos: Fernandina [Narborough]); ca. 1960
Reunion Giant Tortoise
Cylindraspis indica
Réunion; ca. 1840
Mauritius Giant Domed Tortoise
Cylindraspis inepta
Mauritius (Mauritius); ca. 1735
Rodrigues Domed Tortoise
Cylindraspis peltastes
Mauritius (Rodrigues); ca. 1795
Mauritius Giant Flat-shelled Tortoise
Cylindraspis triserrata
Mauritius (Mauritius); ca. 1735
Rodrigues Giant Saddleback Tortoise
Cylindraspis vosmaeri
Mauritius (Rodrigues); ca. 1795
Seychelles Mud Turtle
Pelusios seychellensis
Seychelles (Mahé); ca. 1950
Global Action Plans for Conservation of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles (left: TFTSG 1989; right: TCF 2002).
In the 2002 TCF plan, the rst phase, Preventing Im-
minent Extinctions, is now behind us. We are pleased to say
that no turtle species has gone extinct since the plan was
drafted. Additionally, some species feared extinct have been
rediscovered, and are now subject to targeted conservation
programs. We are now well into the plan’s second phase, Ex-
panding the Focus, with the Turtle Conservation Coalition
and its partners implementing comprehensive conservation
strategies for a variety of regions and species. Ahead lies
the challenge of the plan’s third phase, Securing the Future,
where we aim to ensure that progress made to date will not
be lost and that we continue to expanded turtle conservation
programs into the future.
Throughout the process, the TSA, TCF, and TFTSG
have adhered to the three-pronged conservation vision ar-
ticulated in the 2002 Action Plan that aims to balance: 1)
Capacity Building in range countries to maximize skills and
resources available to safeguard the survival of turtle popu-
lations in their native habitat; 2) Conservation Research on
biology, ecology, and status to identify and adapt optimal
conservation actions; and 3) the establishment of Assur-
ance Colonies for captive breeding as a last line of defense
against extinction and to maintain future options.
The TCF has helped meet the challenge of providing
strategic funding support for needed research and conser-
vation efforts directed at the most endangered species of
freshwater turtles and tortoises. Since issuing its Action
Plan in 2002, the TCF has received over 300 grant proposals
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
through 2010, of which 113 have been funded, supporting
work in 37 different nations. Total requests have been nearly
$1.8 million, with about $536,000 in awards granted, aver-
aging nearly $5000 each. Of the World’s Top 25 Most En-
dangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles identied by the
TFTSG (2007), projects representing over 20 of these have
been funded, including projects on about 65% of the taxa
listed by IUCN as Critically Endangered or Endangered.
As a result of these granted projects, our knowledge of
the population status and distribution of most priority spe-
cies has been vastly improved, and positive on-the-ground
actions to halt and reverse local turtle population declines
have been started and are on-going by numerous research-
ers and turtle organizations worldwide, including partici-
pants in the Turtle Conservation Coalition.
Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA). — After forming in
2001 with an initial focus on establishing ex-situ assurance
colonies in the USA and Europe for many of the most endan-
gered species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, the Turtle
Survival Alliance (TSA) vastly expanded its scope to estab-
lish robust in-situ programs that emphasize the recovery of
Critically Endangered species while developing partnerships
that build lasting capacity for turtle conservation.
The TSA has an overarching commitment to zero turtle
extinctions in the 21st Century and to taking responsibil-
ity for species survival. It is action-oriented and focuses on
implementation of eld-based conservation programs, with
success based on its ability to take swift and decisive ac-
tion on behalf of endangered turtles and tortoises. The TSA
has focused on building capacity for turtle conservation in
range countries, thereby empowering local people to save
their own turtles. By developing the infrastructure for turtle
conservation through training and capacity building, the
TSA has been able to effectively build successful programs
to save species. It has focused on Critically Endangered
species (as determined by the TFTSG and the IUCN Red
List), generally those with an appropriate captive compo-
nent (e.g., headstarting, assurance colonies, rescue centers),
and either manages programs or has supported projects that
directly impacts the survival of 17 of the current World’s
Top 25 Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles.
The TSA has also responded with concerted action to
the priorities established by the global turtle conservation
community, notably by implementing recovery programs
for species in imminent danger of extinction. Workshops
focused on capacity building and priority-setting have been
held in Singapore in 2004, Hong Kong in 2005, India in
2005 (Centre for Herpetology and Madras Crocodile Bank
Trust 2006), Myanmar in 2009, and a return workshop
planned for Singapore in February 2011 in conjunction with
the Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildlife Reserves Sin-
gapore Group, the TFTSG, and other partners. A strategic
planning workshop in Lucknow, India, in 2010 identied
ve key turtle conservation areas within that country and
set in motion a second nationwide action plan. Additional
workshops focused on Asian box turtles (genus Cuora) and
the tortoises of Madagascar have also been held.
The TSA has established programs in turtle diversity
hotspots such as India, Madagascar, and Myanmar, and hired
full-time staff to carry these programs forward to ensure sus-
tainability, maximum effectiveness, and social integration.
To date the TSA has spent nearly $1.4 million on turtle con-
servation. The TSA made history in 2008 when it success-
fully moved the last known female Rafetus swinhoei—the
world’s largest and most endangered freshwater turtle—to
the last known male in China for captive breeding, and has
since spent nearly $100,000 to encourage this pair to breed.
In addition to the accomplishments noted above, the
TSA has also had the following successes: 1) established
captive breeding programs for some of the world’s most
critically endangered turtles and tortoises (e.g., Batagur
trivittata and B. baska); 2) promoted actions in local com-
munities to reduce human impact on turtles and tortoises,
(e.g., poacher conversion workshop in India, community-
based protection programs for tortoises in southern Mada-
gascar, development of countrywide monitoring networks
for the Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii);
and 3) provided emergency transport and facilities for tur-
tles and tortoises conscated from the illegal trade.
Understanding that recovery of turtle and tortoise spe-
cies will in most cases take decades, the TSA has made long-
term commitments to programs in Belize, Bangladesh, Chi-
na, India, Madagascar, Malaysia, and Myanmar. In Belize,
TSA is joining forces with local NGOs in an effort to halt the
continued decline of wild population of Dermatemys mawii.
In India and Bangladesh, TSA supports comprehensive pro-
grams for Batagur baska, B. kachuga, and Chitra indica in
association with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, the San
Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and the Cen-
tre for Advanced Research in Natural Resources and Man-
agement. In 2009, TSA launched a eld-based conservation
program in southern Madagascar focused on Astrochelys ra-
diata and Pyxis spp. in conjunction with Conservation Inter-
national, the TFTSG, and Henry Doorly Zoo’s Madagascar
Biodiversity Partnership. This program aims to empower lo-
cal people living in close association with tortoises to better
protect them from poachers, while safeguarding important
source populations. In Myanmar, TSA has partnered with
the Wildlife Conservation Society and is bringing Critically
Endangered species such as B. trivittata and Geochelone
platynota back from the brink of extinction. The fact that the
captive population of B. trivittata has grown from a handful
of individuals to over 400 animals in just a few short years is
a testament to the productivity of this partnership.
Future initiatives in Asia include turtle conservation
programs in collaboration with the Turtle Conservation
Centre in peninsular Malaysia to preserve some of the best
remaining wild populations of B. afnis and B. borneoensis,
and joining forces with the Asian Turtle Program in Viet-
nam to reintroduce the endemic Mauremys annamensis to
areas of former occurrence. Similar initiatives will soon be
launched in Latin America and Colombia, and Indonesia
and Africa are considered the TSA’s next big challenges for
the coming decade.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist
Group (TFTSG). The TFTSG was established in 1981
by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of
Nature) and the SSC (IUCN Species Survival Commis-
sion). The focus of the TFTSG is to provide the academ-
ic and scientic analysis necessary to assess the survival
status of all species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, to
identify and document the threats to their survival, and to
help catalyze conservation action to ensure that none be-
come extinct and that sustainable populations of all species
persist in the wild. The TFTSG provides expertise and sci-
ence-based recommendations with conservation relevance
covering all species of freshwater and terrestrial turtles and
tortoises, and is the ofcial IUCN Red List Authority for the
determination of global threat levels for these species. The
TFTSG works closely with the IUCN Red List Programme
to assess, evaluate, and determine appropriate threat level
categorizations for these species on the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species™.
The TFTSG works closely with CITES to develop
strategies to address turtle trade, including listing appropri-
ate turtle species on their Appendices. This has proven to be
an effective though slow mechanism to address unsustain-
able international turtle trade and to try to ensure that per-
mitted trade levels are not detrimental to species’ survival.
From 2000 to 2004, 39 Asian freshwater turtle species were
added to CITES Appendix II and their trade monitored,
leading to a gradual reduction in trade volumes of Asian
turtle species. The CITES Secretariat also convened a meet-
ing in 2002, hosted by China and supported by Chelonian
Research Foundation, to engage its Asian Parties in devel-
oping and implementing better regulation and monitoring
of turtle trade, with extensive participation by the TFTSG
(CITES 2002, Rhodin 2002, van Dijk 2002).
At CoP14 in 2007, the CITES Parties (Decision 14.128)
commissioned the TFTSG to undertake a study of the ef-
fects that CITES listings have had on Asian turtle trade and
to make recommendations regarding the conservation and
trade of tortoises and freshwater turtles. The study found
that reported volumes of traded Asian turtles declined
steeply after species were placed on the CITES Appendi-
ces. However, TFTSG also documented a steep concur-
rent increase in imports of North American turtles into
Asia, notably softshell (Apalone spp.) and snapping turtles
(Chelydra), to meet the demand of farms and consumption
trade (IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Special-
ist Group 2010a,b). The study also drew attention to wide-
spread illegal trade in tortoises from India and Madagascar,
among others, for the pet trade in Asia, and concluded with
a series of recommendations that are currently under delib-
eration by the CITES Animals and Standing Committees
for follow-up measures.
Alerted to the massive scale and diversity of wild-col-
lected exports of its native turtle species to Asia, the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Wildlife Trade
Program and the TFTSG co-convened a freshwater turtle
workshop in St. Louis in September 2010. The workshop
highlighted the pressing management, regulatory, scientic,
and enforcement needs associated with the commercial take
and trade of freshwater turtles in the USA. The workshop
brought together Wildlife Agencies from all pertinent U.S.
States, as well as federal, state, academic, and NGO-based
turtle conservation specialists. Results and recommenda-
tions of the workshop have been posted online and serve as
a baseline for further action to limit the impact of the com-
mercial freshwater turtle trade in the United States, such
as the laws and regulations that have already been enacted
in Florida, Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, and other leading
States ( CITES/
Starting at the Cambodia workshop in 1999, the TFTSG
has also conducted a series of regional IUCN Red Listing
workshops to determine IUCN survival status of tortoises
and freshwater turtles, with the rst one covering all Asian
species (IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Spe-
cialist Group and Asian Turtle Trade Working Group 2000).
Subsequent workshops have been held intermittently in col-
laboration with Conservation International, Wildlife Con-
servation Society, the Turtle Survival Alliance, the Turtle
Conservancy, and other partners. Workshops have been
held in Mexico, Spain and Greece (for Mediterranean spe-
cies), India, Madagascar (Mittermeier et al. 2008), Australia
and New Guinea, the USA, and Brazil (for South American
species). These workshops have assessed the conservation
status and survival prospects of the world’s tortoises and
freshwater turtles, provided updated Red List determina-
tions, and helped develop action plans and priority setting.
By bringing together experts on a region’s turtles and
tortoises, these workshops have not only compiled the most
comprehensive and up-to-date information on these species,
but have also enabled regional experts to meet, interact, and
compare experiences, often for the rst time. The process
has gradually compiled a standardized and comparable set
of turtle status assessments that have helped to generate rec-
ommendations for priority conservation actions by Turtle
Conservation Coalition participants and other organizations.
In addition, much of this information is being gradually pub-
lished by these scientists in collaboration with the TFTSG
and Chelonian Research Foundation in its monograph proj-
ect on Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tor-
toises (Rhodin et al. 2008–2010). All these on-going assess-
ment processes have also helped to generate other important
status milestones, such as our series of Top 25 publications.
Top 25+ Threatened Turtles:
A Background to the Listing Process
As part of our comprehensive strategy to highlight and
help prioritize urgently needed conservation action for the
most critically endangered turtles and tortoises in the world,
we have highlighted the Top 25 most endangered species
every four years since 2003. The rst Top 25 list was is-
sued by the TCF (Turtle Conservation Fund 2003) with the
strategic title Turtles on Death Row (see map on p. 14), us-
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
ing the concept from the original prospectus outlining the
conservation goals of the TCF (Turtle Conservation Fund
2002). The second Top 25 list was issued four years later
by the TFTSG (IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle
Specialist Group 2007), being expanded to also include
regional listings of more than just the Top 25 species and
providing a general descending order of extinction risk.
This, our third Top 25 listing, encompasses more
species than previously (and is therefore called the Top
25+), adding several more species that are also at very high
risk of extinction. The species are arranged in a more or less
general and approximate descending order of extinction
risk, and separated into the Top 25, the Other Top 40
[species 26–40], and Others [species 41 and higher], for a
total of 49 species covered (see overview tables, maps, and
photos on pp. 12–16).
In contrast to the previous Top 25 lists, which were
presented by single organizations (the TCF in 2003 and the
TFTSG in 2007), the current 2011 list is presented by a group
of organizations, that we have jointly agreed to designate
as the Turtle Conservation Coalition (TCC) to reect our
collaborative approach in working together, and in order to
speak with one voice on this important subject. The TCC is an
informal alliance of the following turtle- and conservation-
focused organizations currently working together on behalf
of chelonian and biodiversity conservation: the IUCN/SSC
Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG),
the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF), the Turtle Survival
Alliance (TSA), the Turtle Conservancy / Behler Chelonian
Center (TC/BCC), Chelonian Research Foundation (CRF),
Conservation International (CI), Wildlife Conservation
Society (WCS), and San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG).
Working closely with the TCC, the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its Species
Survival Commission (SSC) and Red List Programme have
provided a global framework for many of our conservation
efforts, and CITES and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
have provided important support to allow much of the
background analysis on specic threats to be accomplished.
The TCC welcomes future participation by other associated
organizations, including those focused more on sea turtles,
for other potential projects or endeavors as indicated.
Our methodology for this 2011 Top 25+ list was
to take the previous Top 25 lists from TCF (2003) and
TFTSG (2007), including a synthesis of all the 2007
regional lists, and circulate them to the membership of
the TFTSG (currently 274 members from 51 nations
who work or focus their turtle conservation efforts in 107
nations; for input
and recommendations as to ranking of all terrestrial and
freshwater turtle and tortoise species based on extinction
risk. Those recommendations were then collated and sent
for further review to the 30-member Steering Committee of
the TFTSG, and then nally discussed at a joint leadership
meeting of the principals of the Turtle Conservation
Coalition, thereby generating the current list.
The baseline maps used in this document are from Buhlmann et al. (2009), showing the global distribution of species richness in terms of
the number of terrestrial and freshwater turtle and tortoise species in dened drainage basins (color scale = number of species per area).
Projected distributions were based on GIS-dened hydrologic unit compartments (HUCs) constructed around veried localities and then
adding HUCs that connected known point localities in the same watershed or physiographic region, and similar habitats and elevations
as veried HUCs. The highest concentrations of species are in the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin, Southeastern USA, and Southeast Asia.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Species accounts were then prepared by the editors with
input from multiple experts in the eld, and photographs se-
lected, using photos from the wild whenever possible. Maps
showing general locations for the species utilized the base
map from Buhlmann et al. (2009), showing the patterns of
distribution of tortoise and freshwater turtle species rich-
ness across the globe.
In general, this document includes all terrestrial and fresh-
water turtles and tortoises currently ranked as Extinct in the
Wild or Critically Endangered on the current 2010 IUCN Red
List, or provisionally so, based on recent draft assessments by
the TFTSG (Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2010) carried
out in a series of turtle-focused IUCN Red Listing workshops
held around the world. In addition, included on this list are a
few species at lesser Red List categories that are also consid-
ered to be at a high risk of extinction.
A few turtle taxa listed as Critically Endangered on the
Red List or by the TFTSG are not included on this 2011 Top
25+ list. For example, Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle, Meso-
clemmys dahli, currently listed on the Red List as Critically
Endangered, and included on the rst Top 25 list in 2003,
has recently been determined by the TFTSG to warrant
downlisting to Endangered. This was based on the recent
discovery of additional populations and less apparent habi-
tat threats, and the species may even qualify for Vulnerable
status pending further analysis. This species represents a
good case of increased conservation focus on a perceived
critically endangered species leading to improved knowl-
edge and survival status.
Additionally, the Giant South American River Turtle
or Arrau, Podocnemis expansa, currently listed on the Red
List as Lower Risk / Conservation Dependent, has recent-
ly been determined by the TFTSG to warrant uplisting to
Critically Endangered on a global basis. However, regional
populations in Brazil, despite being markedly reduced, are
still fairly large and holding their own due to good conser-
vation management, and the species is not considered to be
at high risk for impending extinction at this time.
Subspecies and populations were not considered for in-
clusion in this document, although a few are listed as Criti-
cally Endangered on the Red List. The Black Spiny or Cua-
tro Cienegas Softshell Turtle, Apalone spinifera atra, the
Seychelles Black Mud Turtle, Pelusios subniger parietalis,
and the Seychelles Yellow-bellied Mud Turtle, Pelusios
castanoides intergularis, are all at high risk of extinction,
but in need of further genetic analysis to help determine
their distinctiveness. The Greek Tortoise subspecies Testu-
do graeca nikolskii is still listed as Critically Endangered
on the Red List, but has recently been synonymized under
the Asia Minor Tortoise, Testudo graeca ibera, a taxon not
considered at high risk (Turtle Taxonomy Working Group
2010). The Mediterranean population of the African or Nile
Softshell Turtle, Trionyx triunguis, is listed as Critically En-
dangered on the Red List, but the species as a whole is con-
sidered Least Concern, and the Mediterranean population
has recently been determined by the TFTSG to no longer
warrant a ranking of Critically Endangered.
What About Sea Turtles?
This 2011 Top 25+ listing does not formally assess or in-
clude the seven species of sea turtles, as the Red List status of
those species is determined by the IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle
Specialist Group, and our groups are here focused only on
terrestrial and freshwater turtles and tortoises. Unfortunately,
non-marine turtles often receive much less conservation atten-
tion than the generally more apparently charismatic sea turtles
(although we naturally feel that tortoises and freshwater turtles
are fully as charismatic as sea turtles).
However, if we had included sea turtles in our
assessment, it is our opinion that two species might have
warranted inclusion on our Top 25+ list. The Kemp’s
Ridley, Lepidochelys kempii, assessed as Critically
Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with its small regional
and highly impacted population, might have been included
on the lower portions of the list. And the Leatherback Sea
Turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, also assessed as Critically
Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with its larger global
but highly impacted populations, might also have been
included, but possibly further down on the list. However,
the Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, although
also assessed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red
List, would probably not have been included on our Top
25+, as it is similar to the Giant South American River
Turtle, Podocnemis expansa, also provisionally considered
Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, but also not
included on our Top 25+ list. That species also has a large
global population and, just like the Hawksbill, though many
populations are reduced in a major way and facing local
extirpation in several areas, neither species appears to be
facing a high risk of global extinction anytime soon.
Unfortunately, there are many more species of
terrestrial and freshwater turtles and tortoises that are at
signicantly higher risk of impending extinction than any
(or at least most) of the sea turtles. Nevertheless, sea turtles
in general tend to garner much broader and stronger levels
of support from both non-governmental and governmental
conservation organizations than non-marine turtles receive .
It is evident that conservation resource allocation should
include similar or comparable levels of support for terrestrial
and freshwater turtles and tortoises and sea turtles alike. All
these highly endangered and important animals are facing a
high extinction risk, and all need our help.
Patterns of Threat Among
Turtles and Tortoises
With anywhere from 48 to 54% of all 328 of their
species considered threatened (Turtle Taxonomy Working
Group 2010), turtles and tortoises are at a much higher risk
of extinction than many other vertebrates: birds (ca. 13%),
mammals (ca. 21–25%), sharks and rays (ca. 17–31%), or
amphibians (ca. 30–41%) (Hoffmann et al. 2010), and par-
alleled among the larger groups only by the primates (ca.
48%) (
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Of the 263 species of freshwater and terrestrial turtles
(i.e., not tortoises or sea turtles), one species is already
Extinct, with 117 (45%) of the remaining 262 species
considered Threatened by the IUCN, and 73 (28%) either
Critically Endangered or Endangered. Of the 58 species of
tortoises (family Testudinidae), seven are already Extinct
and one is Extinct in the Wild, with 33 (66%) of the re-
maining 50 species considered Threatened, and 18 (36%)
either Critically Endangered or Endangered, yielding 41
(71%) of all tortoise species either already gone or almost
gone. Of the seven species of sea turtles, six (86%) are con-
sidered Threatened, and ve (71%) are Critically Endan-
gered or Endangered. In comparison, tortoises have nearly
as high a percentage of threatened species as sea turtles,
and freshwater turtles are not far behind.
In terms of analysis of geographic patterns of the 2011
Top 25 tortoise and freshwater turtle species [1–25], if we
consider continents, 17 species (68%) are from Asia, 3
(12%) are from Africa, 3 (12%) from South America, and
one each (4% each) are from North America and Australia.
If we consider countries, 6 species (24%) occur in China,
4 (16%) in Indonesia, 3 (12%) in Vietnam, and 2 (8%) in
Madagascar. If we expand this geographic analysis to the
2011 Top 40 [1–40], if we consider continents, then 25 spe-
cies (63%) are from Asia, 7 (18%) from Africa, 4 (10%)
from North America, 3 (8%) from South America, and one
(3%) from Australia; if we consider countries, then 9 spe-
cies (23%) occur in China, 7 (18%) in Vietnam, 5 (13%) in
Madagascar, and 4 (10%) in Indonesia.
In terms of analysis of taxonomic patterns of the 2011
Top 25 species [1–25], if we consider families, 13 (52%)
are Geoemydidae, 4 (16%) are Testudinidae, 3 (12%) are
Chelidae, 2 each (8% each) are Trionychidae and Podocne-
mididae, and one (4%) is the monotypic family Dermate-
mydidae. If we expand this taxonomic analysis to the 2011
Top 40 [1–40], then 19 (48%) are Geoemydidae, 9 (23%)
are Testudinidae, 3 (8%) are Chelidae, 4 (10%) are Triony-
chidae, 2 each (5% each) are Podocnemididae and Emydi-
dae, and one (3%) is the monotypic family Dermatemydi-
dae. If we consider species on the 2011 Top 25, then 5 each
(20% each) are from the Asian genera Cuora and Batagur
(Geoemydidae). If we expand this analysis to the 2011 Top
40, then 9 (23%) are Cuora, 5 (13%) are Batagur, and 3
(8%) are Asian Chitra (Trionychidae).
Clearly, Asian species (most notably from China and
Vietnam, but also from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, In-
dia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and the Phil-
ippines) of the family Geoemydidae, and especially of the
genera Cuora and Batagur, are at the highest general risk
of extinction. Also at very high risk of extinction are all
ve of the endemic species of Madagascar.
The regional pattern of high extinction risk for Asian
species is primarily because of the long-term unsustain-
able exploitation of turtles and tortoises for consumption
and traditional Chinese medicine, and to a lesser extent
for the international pet trade, as identied and described
in detail in our earlier volume on the Asian Turtle Trade
(van Dijk et al. 2000). In addition, there is an expanding
Chinese domestic pet trade driven by high-end invest-
ment-oriented demand for accumulation of Cuora speci-
mens that is causing increased pressure on remaining
populations of these species.
The Way Forward
This presentation of the world’s most endangered tur-
tles is intended to help raise awareness about the critical
survival status of this well-known group of animals that
have thrived on our planet for millions of years, but who
now face an extremely high extinction risk within our life-
times. We could quickly and easily lose several of these
important and charismatic animal species unless we take
decisive action to safeguard their future. This list of the
most endangered turtles should be used as an effective
guideline to set urgent priority actions for conservation and
research on these species, although in no way should it dis-
courage conservation or research on any other less endan-
gered species.
Despite the gains made by the partner organizations
in the Turtle Conservation Coalition, as outlined earlier,
we still need more progress and sustainable successes. Our
prime focus to date has been mainly on the crisis situations
in Asia and Madagascar, but turtles all over the world need
our help and conservation action. Resources are always a
limiting factor, but together we have succeeded in increas-
ing support to these efforts. We will continue to work hard
to generate more and broader-based support and to make
a more permanent difference for the survival of turtles
It is our intention to revisit this Top 25+ list within
a four-year time frame in order to update relevant status
changes. At that time we expect to report further conser-
vation successes and hopefully begin to take some turtles
off this list. Let us all do whatever we can to help make a
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Citation for this Contribution:
rh o d i n , a.G.J., Wa l d e , a.d., ho r n e , B.d., v a n di J k , P.P., Bl a n C k ,
T., a n d hu d s o n , r. 2011. Editorial introduction and executive
summary. In: Turtle Conservation Coalition. Turtles in Trouble:
The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwa-
ter Turtles—2010. Lunenburg, MA: IUCN/SSC Tortoise and
Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservation Fund,
Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy, Chelonian Re-
search Foundation, Conservation International, Wildlife Con-
servation Society, and San Diego Global Zoo, pp. 3–16.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Genus Species Family Distribution Red List Draft
Top 25 Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles at Extremely High Risk of Extinction:
Chelonoidis abingdonii Testudinidae South America: Ecuador (Galápagos) EW
Rafetus swinhoei Trionychidae Asia: China, Vietnam CR
Cuora yunnanensis Geoemydidae Asia: China CR
Batagur baska Geoemydidae Asia: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar CR
Batagur trivittata Geoemydidae Asia: Myanmar EN CR
Cuora zhoui Geoemydidae Asia: China, Vietnam (?) CR
Cuora mccordi Geoemydidae Asia: China CR
Cuora aurocapitata Geoemydidae Asia: China CR
Cuora trifasciata Geoemydidae Asia: China, Laos, Vietnam CR
Astrochelys yniphora Testudinidae Africa: Madagascar CR
Geochelone platynota Testudinidae Asia: Myanmar CR
Chelodina mccordi Chelidae Asia: Indonesia, Timor-Leste CR
Chitra chitra Trionychidae Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand CR
Mauremys annamensis Geoemydidae Asia: Vietnam CR
Dermatemys mawii Dermatemy didae North / Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Mexico CR
Erymnochelys madagascariensis Podocnemididae Africa: Madagascar CR
Batagur afnis Geoemydidae Asia: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand NE CR
Batagur kachuga Geoemydidae Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal CR
Leucocephalon yuwonoi Geoemydidae Asia: Indonesia CR
Pseudemydura umbrina Chelidae Australia (Western Australia) CR
Mesoclemmys hogei Chelidae South America: Brazil EN CR
Psammobates geometricus Testudinidae Africa: South Africa EN CR
Siebenrockiella leytensis Geoemydidae Asia: Philippines CR
Podocnemis lewyana Podocnemididae South America: Colombia EN CR
Batagur borneoensis Geoemydidae Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia CR
Other Top 40 Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles at Very High Risk of Extinction:
Cuora pani Geoemydidae Asia: China CR
Testudo kleinmanni Testudinidae Africa / Middle East: Egypt, Israel, Libya CR
Heosemys depressa Geoemydidae Asia: Myanmar CR
Cuora picturata Geoemydidae Asia: Vietnam NE CR
Pyxis planicauda Testudinidae Africa: Madagascar CR
Chitra vandijki Trionychidae Asia: Myanmar, Thailand NE CR
Mauremys nigricans Geoemydidae Asia: China, Vietnam (?) EN CR
Chitra indica Trionychidae Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan EN
Terrapene coahuila Emydidae North America: Mexico EN
Astrochelys radiata Testudinidae Africa: Madagascar CR
Cuora bourreti Geoemydidae Asia: Cambodia (?), Laos (?), Vietnam NE CR
Cuora galbinifrons Geoemydidae Asia: China, Laos, Vietnam CR
Pyxis arachnoides Testudinidae Africa: Madagascar CR
Gopherus avomarginatus Testudinidae North America: Mexico VU EN
Glyptemys muhlenbergii Emydidae North America: USA EN CR
Other Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles at High Risk of Extinction:
Elusor macrurus Chelidae Australia (Queensland) EN
Manouria emys Testudinidae Asia: India to Thailand to Indonesia EN
Homopus solus Testudinidae Africa: Namibia VU
Chelonoidis hoodensis Testudinidae South America: Ecuador (Galápagos) CR
Chelonoidis duncanensis Testudinidae South America: Ecuador (Galápagos) EW CR
Nilssonia formosa Trionychidae Asia: Myanmar, Thailand (?) EN
Nilssonia nigricans Trionychidae Asia: Bangladesh, India EW CR
Sternotherus depressus Kinosternidae North America: USA VU CR
Pelochelys cantorii Trionychidae Asia: India to China to Indonesia to Philippines EN
Table of Species of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles
Considered to be at the Highest Risk for Extinction in 2011:
Arranged in General and Approximate Descending Order of Extinction Risk
1 IUCN Threat Categories: EW = Extinct in the Wild; CR = Critically Endangered; EN = Endangered; VU = Vulnerable; NE = Not Evaluated
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Top 25 Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles at Extremely High Risk of Extinction in 2011.
Top 25 (red) plus Other Top 40 [26–40] (yellow) Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles at Very High Risk of Extinction in 2011.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Top 25 (red) plus Other Top 40 [26–40] (yellow) plus Other [41+] (tan)
Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles at High Risk of Extinction in 2011.
Map from the original 2003 Turtle Conservation Fund listing of the Top 25 Turtles on Death Row.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
2003 2007 2011 2011 2011
Family Genus Species Distribution Top 25 Top 25 Top 25 [26–40] [41+]
Chelidae Chelodina mccordi Asia x x x
Chelidae Elusor macrurus Australia x x x
Chelidae Mesoclemmys dahli South America x
Chelidae Mesoclemmys hogei South America x
Chelidae Pseudemydura umbrina Australia x x x
Dermatemydidae Dermatemys mawii North / Central America x x x
Emydidae Glyptemys muhlenbergii North America x x
Emydidae Graptemys avimaculata North America x
Emydidae Terrapene coahuila North America x x
Geoemydidae Batagur afnis Asia x
Geoemydidae Batagur baska Asia x x x
Geoemydidae Batagur borneoensis Asia x x x
Geoemydidae Batagur kachuga Asia x
Geoemydidae Batagur trivittata Asia x x x
Geoemydidae Cuora aurocapitata Asia x x
Geoemydidae Cuora bourreti Asia x
Geoemydidae Cuora galbinifrons Asia x
Geoemydidae Cuora mccordi Asia x
Geoemydidae Cuora pani Asia x
Geoemydidae Cuora picturata Asia x
Geoemydidae Cuora trifasciata Asia x x x
Geoemydidae Cuora yunnanensis Asia x x
Geoemydidae Cuora zhoui Asia x
Geoemydidae Heosemys depressa Asia x x x
Geoemydidae Leucocephalon yuwonoi Asia x x x
Geoemydidae Mauremys annamensis Asia x x x
Geoemydidae Mauremys nigricans Asia x
Geoemydidae Siebenrockiella leytensis Asia x x x
Kinosternidae Sternotherus depressus North America x
Podocnemididae Erymnochelys madagascariensis Africa x x x
Podocnemididae Podocnemis lewyana South America x
Testudinidae Astrochelys radiata Africa x
Testudinidae Astrochelys yniphora Africa x x x
Testudinidae Chelonoidis abingdonii South America x x x
Testudinidae Chelonoidis duncanensis South America x
Testudinidae Chelonoidis hoodensis South America x
Testudinidae Geochelone platynota Asia x x x
Testudinidae Gopherus avomarginatus North America x
Testudinidae Homopus signatus cafer Africa x
Testudinidae Homopus solus Africa x
Testudinidae Manouria emys Asia x
Testudinidae Psammobates geometricus Africa x x x
Testudinidae Pyxis arachnoides Africa x
Testudinidae Pyxis planicauda Africa x x x
Testudinidae Testudo kleinmanni Africa / Middle East x x x
Trionychidae Chitra chitra Asia x x x
Trionychidae Chitra indica Asia x x
Trionychidae Chitra vandijki Asia x
Trionychidae Nilssonia formosa Asia x
Trionychidae Nilssonia nigricans Asia x
Trionychidae Pelochelys cantorii Asia x
Trionychidae Rafetus swinhoei Asia x x x
Table of all species (and one subspecies) of turtles and tortoises, arranged taxonomically,
that have been included on our Top 25 lists: TCF (2003), TFTSG (2007), and the present 2011 Top 25+ list.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Chelonoidis abingdonii
Photo A.G.J. Rhodin
Rafetus swinhoei
Photo T. McCormack
Cuora yunnanensis
Photo T. Zhou, W.P. McCord, T. Blanck
Batagur baska
Photo R. Ghosh
Batagur trivittata
Photo R. Hudson
Cuora zhoui
Photo T. Blanck
Cuora mccordi
Photo T. Blanck
Cuora aurocapitata
Photo G. Kuchling
Cuora trifasciata
Photo P. Crow
Astrochelys yniphora
Photo A.G.J. Rhodin
Geochelone platynota
Photo B.D. Horne
Chelodina mccordi
Photo A.G.J. Rhodin
Chitra chitra
Photo C. Tabaka
Mauremys annamensis
Photo R. Reed
Dermatemys mawii
Photo M. Merida
Erymnochelys madagascariensis
Photo A.G.J. Rhodin
Batagur afnis
Photo E.H. Chan
Batagur kachuga
Photo B.D. Horne
Leucocephalon yuwonoi
Photo C. Hagen
Pseudemydura umbrina
Photo G. Kuchling
Mesoclemmys hogei
Photo R.A. Mittermeier
Psammobates geometricus
Photo A. de Villiers
Siebenrockiella leytensis
Photo R.M. Brown
Podocnemis lewyana
Photo A. Cadavid
Batagur borneoensis
Photo D. Hendrie
The World’s Top 25 Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles 2011
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Turtles in Trouble:
The World’s Top 25 Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater
Turtles at Extremely High Risk of Extinction—2011
Arranged in General and Approximate
Descending Order of Extinction Risk
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Pinta Giant Tortoise, Abingdon Island Giant Tortoise
Chelonoidis abingdonii (Günther 1877); Family Testudinidae
South America: Ecuador (Galápagos: Pinta [Abingdon] [extirpated])
IUCN Red List: EW, Extinct in the Wild, as Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni
CITES: Appendix I, as Chelonoidis nigra
While there is some scientic dis-
agreement whether the various differ-
ent island forms of Galápagos tortoises
represent separate species or subspe-
cies, all agree that Lonesome George
(aptly named and seen here at right)
is the last surviving individual of his
kind, the Abingdon Island or Pinta Gi-
ant Tortoise, Chelonoidis abingdonii.
The species was driven to near-extinc-
tion by collection for consumption by
whalers during the 19th century and
other Galápagos settlers during the
20th century, with Lonesome George
being found as the last living tortoise
on his island in 1972.
After being found he was moved
into protective custody at the Charles
Darwin Research Station on Santa
Cruz Island in the hope that a female
might be found for a captive breeding
program—but this has not happened
despite extensive husbandry and mat-
ing efforts. Thus the Pinta Tortoise is
now listed as Extinct in the Wild on
the IUCN Red List of Threatened Spe-
cies, and his species faces imminent
and certain extinction unless a female
of his kind is found somewhere.
Amazingly, and offering a faint glimmer of hope, re-
cent eld research elsewhere in the Galápagos has demon-
strated that a very few hybrid animals carrying up to 50% of
Lonesome George’s genotype have been found among wild
tortoises on Albemarle Island (Isabela) around the base of
Volcan Wolf. These are likely from a ship dropping some
Pinta Tortoises overboard in an emergency long ago, after
which some of them drifted ashore and interbred with the
local tortoises, Chelonoidis becki. Genetic screening and
selective back-crossing offers new hope that Lonesome
George’s lineage could be partially restored, but this would
be an exceedingly long shot with very low likelihood of suc-
cess. Lonesome George has become a conservation icon and
a symbol for heroic last-ditch efforts to save a species from
extinction, but barring unlikely reproductive success, may
truly become the very last of his kind.
Lonesome George, Chelonoidis abingdonii. Photo by Anders G.J. Rhodin.
Lonesome George, C. abingdonii. Photo by Peter C.H. Pritchard.
Distribution of Chelonoidis abingdonii.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Red River Giant Softshell Turtle, Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle
Rafetus swinhoei (Gray 1873); Family Trionychidae
Asia: China (Anhui [?, extirpated?], Jiangsu [?, extirpated?], Yunnan, Zhejiang [?, extirpated?]), Vietnam
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1cd+2cd
CITES: Appendix III (China)
Rafetus swinhoei is an enormous softshell
turtle with shell length over 100 cm that can reach
120 kg (250 lbs). Historically this species inhabited
the Red River of Yunnan, China, and Vietnam, and
possibly the lower Yangtze River oodplain. Al-
though worshipped in some areas, capture for con-
sumption, wetland destruction, and water pollution
have severely impacted its populations. It is hard
to believe that such a magnicent creature is almost
gone, yet the global population is down to only four
known remaining individuals. One has lived for de-
cades in Hoan Kiem Lake in downtown Hanoi where
it is respected and worshipped; another lives in a lake
west of Hanoi. Unfortunately, both are males.
The other remaining two animals, a male and a
female, currently reside together in the Suzhou Zoo
in China, after decades of living in separate facili-
ties in China. The culmination of years of work by
Wildlife Conservation Society China, Turtle Survival Alli-
ance, and Chinese authorities, with support from the Turtle
Conservation Fund and other organizations, brought these
two animals together in 2008. Eggs have been produced
each year since, but all have died during incubation. Years
of inadequate nutrition and perhaps the advanced age of the
male (possibly >100 years) may be contributing to the lack
of successful breeding. With continuous input from the sup-
porting organizations, numerous husbandry adjustments have
been made with regard to monitoring nutrition, egg incuba-
tion, water quality, and visitor impact. Glass barriers have
been erected around the breeding pools to prevent public feed-
ing and trash disposal, and the pair can be now be left together
year around to improve the chances of a successful breeding.
Recent intensive surveys in Yunnan, China, showed
evidence of R. swinhoei encounters in the past twenty years,
and one or a few more individuals could still be surviving
in the wild. In Vietnam, the Asian Turtle Conservation Net-
work has worked tirelessly over the past decade to survey
suitable wetlands for surviving wild individuals (and found
the fourth known animal as a result), and is working with lo-
cal communities and authorities on turtle conservation aware-
ness. This work was rewarded when the wetland west of Ha-
noi broke its dam last year and the turtle was caught about 10
km downriver; the existing awareness enabled the turtle to be
retrieved from the sherman and released into its (repaired)
wetland unharmed. Had the awareness campaign not been
successful this animal would have ended up in a soup pot.
Priority actions for the species include continuing to
work with Suzhou Zoo towards successful reproduction and
eventually developing a reintroduction program for the spe-
cies. This may include bringing in one of the other, potential-
ly younger males. In addition, it is essential to continue sur-
veys and awareness work in Yunnan and northern Vietnam
where possibly another individual could be located in the
wild and possibly brought together with the last known wild
animal. Awareness and continued local vigilance is needed
on behalf of the last wild individual.
Last known wild R. swinhoei, nr. Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Tim McCormack.
Distribution of Rafetus swinhoei. Female R. swinhoei, in Suzhou Zoo. Photo by Gerald Kuchling.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Yunnan Box Turtle
Cuora yunnanensis (Boulenger 1906); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: China (Yunnan)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered B2ab(ii,iii,v), D
CITES: Appendix II, as Cuora spp.
Cuora yunnanensis was de-
scribed in 1906 by Boulenger from
the southern Chinese Yunnan Prov-
ince. After its initial description it
all but vanished, only rarely being
seen. It is a small turtle with cara-
pace length of up to 19 cm, with a
dull brown carapace. Its head is pre-
dominantly brown with distinctive
yellow lines, and a plastron that is
yellow with some darker pigmenta-
tion. There is only one yellow (or-
ange in juveniles) stripe on the mid-
dle upper part of the forelegs; this
stripe does not occur on any other
Cuora and is therefore diagnostic.
Despite intensive eld re-
search, the species was not seen
between 1940 and the early 21st
century and its presumed habitat
disappeared under the growing de-
velopment around the expanding urban area of Kunming,
Yunnan. This lead to the assumption that the species
was probably extinct, and it was subsequently ofcially
listed as Extinct on the IUCN Red List in 2000. How-
ever, fortuitously in 2004, photos of a female specimen
were posted on an internet forum requesting assistance
in identication. Only a few months later, an adult male
appeared in the local pet trade. Both animals were pur-
chased by a local turtle specialist and have subsequently
been bred since 2006 and have produced a dozen hatch-
lings. Genetic research has conrmed the validity of the
species and the recently found specimens and that they do
not represent animals of hybrid origin. In 2006 another
female specimen was found in a local Chinese market
and between 2007 and 2009 a few further animals were
also discovered. The species is highly sought after in the
pet trade with a few specimens already appearing in the
larger Chinese cities. Prices of USD15–50,000 have been
offered, making it the most expensive of all the Chinese
box turtles.
After nearly a decade of intensive searching, it was not
until 2008 that the habitat of the species was nally found
by a team from Kunming Institute of Zoology. An assur-
ance colony is now being maintained at the Institute and
is supported by the Turtle Survival Alliance with proper
enclosures and guidance for keeping and breeding this spe-
cies. In 2010, the rst eggs from this effort were laid. The
habitat is currently being studied and efforts to protect it
are underway, although it is difcult in this area. While the
species was able to hide and survive for nearly a century,
its recent discovery is likely to further threaten its small
and isolated population.
Cuora yunnanensis hatched in captivity. Photo by Zhou Ting.
Distribution of Cuora yunnanensis.
Cuora yunnanensis from Yunnan. Photo by Zhou Ting, William P. McCord, and Torsten Blanck.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Northern River Terrapin
Batagur baska (Gray 1830); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Bangladesh, India (Orissa, West Bengal), Myanmar, Thailand (?) (extirpated?)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1cd
CITES: Appendix I
The genus Batagur, comprising ve Criti-
cally Endangered and one Endangered species,
is the group of river turtles closest to the brink
of extinction. With males exhibiting striking sea-
sonal breeding colors, they are also some of the
most attractive and unusual turtles in the world.
All six species of the genus are highly aquatic and
grow to a large size. Because of the tasty esh
and delicious eggs, these riverine and estuarine
turtle species have been heavily harvested and
exploited throughout their range for a very long
time. Batagur baska, the Critically Endangered
type species of the genus, was until recently con-
sidered to be relatively wide-ranging in estuar-
ies from India to Indonesia, but genetic analysis
determined that what was previously considered
one species was in fact two separate and even
more critically endangered species: the Northern
River Terrapin, B. baska, and the Southern River
Terrapin, Batagur afnis. Both are Critically En-
Populations of the Northern River Terrapin,
previously highly abundant in river deltas and estuaries of
Orissa and West Bengal in India and the Ayeryawady Delta
in Myanmar during the 19th and early 20th centuries, have
now all but vanished. Only a few remnant individuals have
been recorded from village ponds where local shermen
maintain the turtles as a source of eggs, as there are no
longer any known nesting areas. In November 2010 a wild-
caught male was seen slaughtered at a market in Dhaka,
Bangladesh, providing evidence of a few remaining speci-
mens in the wild.
The turtles have declined due to the all too common
problems of overharvesting of both adults and eggs for hu-
man consumption. Habitat loss and degradation such as
sand mining, dam construction, and pollution have also
contributed to this species’ decline.
With so few animals remaining it has become a race
against time to secure the last of the living animals in as-
surance colonies before this species blinks into extinction.
Currently the Turtle Survival Alliance and Zoo Schoenb-
runn in Vienna are funding the construction of new cap-
tive breeding facility in Bangladesh for animals that have
been removed from the illegal wildlife trade, or have been
bought from their owners who had been keeping them as
talismans in their sh breeding ponds. All efforts need to
be made to bring together the last of the remaining indi-
viduals of this species to round up breeding groups. For the
long-term survival of the species it is essential to initiate a
studbook for pedigree breeding, including all known cap-
tive kept specimens in Bangladesh, India, and Austria to
minimize inbreeding depression and genetic drift.
Batagur baska female from India. Photo by Rick Hudson.
Distribution of Batagur baska.
Batagur baska male in breeding color from Bangladesh. Photo by Rupali Ghosh.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Burmese Roofed Turtle
Batagur trivittata (Duméril and Bibron 1835); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Myanmar
IUCN Red List: EN, Endangered A1c; TFTSG Draft: CR, Critically Endangered
CITES: Appendix II, as Batagur spp.
Not seen by scientists since
the 1930s, Batagur trivittata
was once feared extinct. Pre-
viously numbering in the hun-
dreds of thousands, this large
riverine turtle had undergone
drastic declines due to many
years of hunting and harvest-
ing of eggs from the nesting
beaches. “Rediscovered” in
2002 when a trio was retrieved
in a temple pond in Mandalay,
Myanmar, this species has since
been the subject of an inten-
sive species recovery effort that
provides hope for their long-
term survival. Subsequent river
surveys from 2002 to 2004 re-
vealed two remnant population
clinging to existence: one in the
Dokhtawady River and a sec-
ond one in the upper Chindwin River in a remote corner
of northern Myanmar. Now it is recognized as one of the
most endangered turtles in the world, with only 5–7 adult
nesting females known to remain in the wild. Unfortu-
nately, the Dokhtawady population has not received any
attention since 2004 and it is unknown if it still persists.
In 2005, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) began
protecting the nesting beaches on the upper Chindwin
River, and to date 376 hatchlings (2006–10) have been
transferred to headstarting facilities at Yadanabon Zoo.
These facilities were made possible due to funding and
efforts by the Turtle Survival Alliance.
Although the WCS turtle team has had much success
in securing hatchlings each year, more can be done. Of the
eggs that are laid each year on the upper Chindwin River,
nearly 100 show signs of being infertile. It is possible that
there are not enough males left in the wild to inseminate
the remaining few females. WCS hopes to experimentally
release some of the 5-year old male headstarted turtles into
this region in hopes of increasing the number of fertile eggs
laid each year.
In addition to the wild population, there is a small
captive breeding group of eight adults at Yadanabon Zoo
in Mandalay that has successfully produced 37 hatchlings
from 2008 to 2010. While the captive breeding program is a
key component to the species’ survival, this is the only cap-
tive group worldwide, a worrisome “all eggs in one basket”
scenario. Efforts are currently underway to distribute this
captive gene pool among several facilities in Myanmar to
prevent the risk of catastrophic loss.
With a robust captive population—now numbering 417
individuals—serving as a hedge against extinction, saving
the remnant wild population becomes an urgent priority.
This promises to be an uphill battle because the number of
threats is increasing. Currently wide-spread gold mining is
disrupting historic, preferred nesting beaches, while unsus-
tainable shing practices—dynamiting, electro-shocking,
gill-netting—cause signicant mortality. However, the sin-
gle greatest threat is a proposed dam on the upper Chindwin
that will inundate all known nesting beaches and impound
much of the remaining river habitat. It is unknown how this
species will respond to such a drastic environmental distur-
bance, but we must be prepared with mitigation measures.
Surveys are currently underway to locate additional suit-
able habitat where a wild population can be safeguarded.
Distribution of Batagur trivittata.
Batagur trivittata male in breeding color from Myanmar. Photo by Rick Hudson.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Zhou’s Box Turtle
Cuora zhoui Zhao in Zhao, Zhou, and Ye 1990; Family Geoemydidae
Asia: China (Guangxi [?]), Vietnam (?)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1d+2d
CITES: Appendix II, as Cuora spp.
This member of the
Asian box turtle genus Cuora
only became known to sci-
ence when it was described
in 1990. Cuora zhoui was
discovered by Chinese scien-
tists who purchased a handful
of specimens from a market
in Pingxiang, a small trading
village in southern China’s
Guangxi Province near the
border to Vietnam. A year
later, the species was also
described as Cuora pallidi-
cephala by American scien-
tists who had received speci-
mens of this species from
a Hong Kong turtle trader.
These specimens were said
to originate from southern
China’s Yunnan Province. As the Chinese description ap-
peared rst, it is the ofcial accepted description and name
for this species.
Cuora zhoui is a very distinct species, with a brown-
ish to black carapace, a black plastron with a yellow central
gure, and an olive colored head. Some hypothesized that
this species might be a hybrid between Mauremys mutica
and Cuora pani, but genetic studies have clearly shown that
C. zhoui is a valid species. It is a relatively small turtle with
adults reaching a carapace length of up to about 19 cm.
Despite intensive searches for the past two decades,
this species has not yet been found in the wild and thus its
native habitat and natural habits remain unknown. Some
recent evidence now suggests that the species might orig-
inate from northern Vietnam rather than from southern
China, and efforts are underway to investigate this fur-
ther. Based upon the low number of specimens that have
appeared in the trade in the last two decades, this species
is probably highly isolated and restricted to a very small
Less than 200 specimens have ever appeared in the
trade and of these, less than 100 have survived until today.
There are only three turtle breeders that have reproduced
this species so far in captivity, the most successful being
Elmar Meier at Zoo Münster, who has produced more than
30 hatchlings.
No specimens of this species have appeared in the
Asian turtle trade during the last two years, which might
indicate that the species is already extirpated from the
wild; gone before science was able to study and protect
it. Intense eld research is urgently needed to determine
if it still occurs in the wild. If not, at least we need to nd
its former habitat in order to provide a future place for an
eventual reintroduction program.
Cuora zhoui in captivity. Photo by Torsten Blanck.
Cuora zhoui in captivity. Photo by Torsten Blanck.
Distribution of Cuora zhoui.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
McCord’s Box Turtle
Cuora mccordi Ernst 1988; Family Geoemydidae
Asia: China (Guangxi)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1d+2d
CITES: Appendix II, as Cuora spp.
Cuora mccordi is a yellow-headed and
chestnut-brown-shelled member of the Asian
box turtle genus Cuora that became known to
science during the early 1980s. It was nally
described as a new species in 1988. The spe-
cies reaches carapace lengths of up to 23 cm.
Despite its description based on specimens
purchased in the market of Bose, a smaller city
in western Guangxi Province, southern China,
the species’ habitat and distribution remained
unknown for two decades. This raised specu-
lation that the species might just be a hybrid
of Cuora trifasciata x Cuora avomarginata,
but genetics substantiated that it is a valid and
genetically distinct species.
It was not until 2005 that a team of sci-
entists discovered the species’ native habitat
in Guangxi, at a time when the species was
already nearly gone from the wild. In 2008 a
detailed study of the habitat showed that the
species is semiaquatic and inhabits bamboo and broad-
leafed forests in an area of less than 50 km². This species
is usually hidden, dug into the soil or below plants where
it is well camouaged with its brown carapace. Unfor-
tunately this does not camouage the species from hu-
man collection. In the 1970s, while still unknown to sci-
ence, local villagers used the turtles instead of stones to
throw at their buffaloes since they were easier to nd than
stones in the area. Around this same time, villagers tried
to produce turtle jelly from them, but the taste was not as
good as the jelly produced from C. trifasciata. In the early
1980s a well-known Hong Kong turtle dealer appeared in
their village and started to pay them for collecting these
turtles for him. At rst he offered just a few cents, but
gradually the price increased as the species became rarer,
caused by the collecting pressure as well as destruction of
their habitat. In the 2000s, a villager could earn as much
as USD 4000 for a single specimen, more than a yearly
income in this area. In 2008, a male specimen, one of the
last ones remaining, was sold in Guangzhou, Guangdong
Province, China for USD 20,000. Surveys conducted in
2009 discovered only one specimen in the wild and in
2010 no specimens were observed, indicating probable
extirpation in the wild.
Approximately 350 specimens have entered the trade;
most of them ending up in western collections. Due to lim-
ited knowledge of the species, only about 150 are still alive
today and are reproducing well in captivity. Conservation ef-
forts for this species require the formation and management
of better breeding groups to increase reproductive output. In
addition, conservation of the remaining habitat is required so
that in the future this species can hopefully be reintroduced
to its native habitats. Efforts at establishing an in-situ breed-
ing project in China are also being considered.
Cuora mccordi from China in captivity. Photo by Torsten Blanck.
Distribution of Cuora mccordi. Cuora mccordi hatched in captivity. Photo by Torsten Blanck.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Yellow-headed Box Turtle
Cuora aurocapitata Luo and Zong 1988; Family Geoemydidae
Asia: China (Anhui)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1d+2d
CITES: Appendix II, as Cuora spp.
Cuora aurocapitata is a highly
aquatic member of its genus, reach-
ing carapace lengths of up to 18
cm. Similar to most of the Cuora,
it is sexually dimorphic, with males
smaller than females; in addition
males are comparatively atter than
females with longer, thicker tails.
This species once thrived in the fast
owing hillside streams in the high-
lands of southern Anhui Province,
eastern China, where it preyed upon
shrimp, insects, and small sh. Simi-
lar to many of the recently described
Cuora, its scientic description in
1988 helped accelerate its demise.
It took until 2004 for scientists to
nd the species in the wild for the
rst time. While already collected
and consumed by local villagers for
centuries, the pet trade became in-
terested in this bright yellow-headed
species with its nice grayish cara-
pace with reddish and brown blotches
shortly after its description. This led
to uncontrolled collection. By the late 1990s the population
apparently collapsed, not only due to overharvesting, but
also pollution and destruction of its habitat. It was never
common and is highly endemic, only occurring in three
river systems of the southern Anhui mountain ranges. Both
western and Chinese collections now hold more specimens
than are left in the wild. Current estimates of its status
in the wild range between 50–150 animals. Although the
species is breeding in increasing numbers in captivity, the
mortality of wild-caught animals has been high.
Ongoing hydroelectric damming of the hill streams
in its native habitat is destroying the nesting beaches and
opening up previously remote stream and forest areas to
exploitation; dynamite and poison shing kills both tur-
tles and their prey, and pollution and collection for the
turtle trade do the rest. Following this trend, the species
is predicted to be extinct in the wild in less than 5 years.
An international team supported by the Turtle Survival
Alliance and Turtle Conservation Fund is working to pre-
vent imminent extinction through the use of local aware-
ness campaigns, recovering destroyed nesting beaches,
and trying to protect the last remaining remote habitats in
which a few animals still seem to occur.
Cuora aurocapitata female from a turtle farm in Anhui, China. Photo by Gerald Kuchling.
Distribution of Cuora aurocapitata. Cuora aurocapitata in captivity. Photo by Cris Hagen.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Chinese Three-striped Box Turtle, Golden Coin Turtle
Cuora trifasciata (Bell 1825); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: China (Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Hong Kong), Laos, Vietnam
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1d+2d
CITES: Appendix II, as Cuora spp.
Cuora trifasciata is one of the oldest known
members of the genus, being the second one de-
scribed, by Bell in 1825. The species reaches up
to 32 cm shell length and the carapace is chestnut-
brown with three longitudinal black stripes, giv-
ing the species its scientic name; the plastron is
black and the head golden yellow with black lines
and a brown blotch behind each eye.
This species has a long history of usage in
traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese name
for this species is Golden Coin Turtle; the word
‘turtle’ in Chinese has the same sound as the word
for ‘return’ and hence it is often kept by people to
bring good luck because its name suggests gold
coins will return. Recently, some traders claimed
that consuming jellies and extracts from this turtle
was capable of curing cancer, and this partly re-
sulted in an enormous increase in its commercial
value, with animals now selling for many thou-
sands of dollars each. Because of its high value,
the species is currently being farmed by the thousands and
there is also a demand for breeding stock. Unfortunately, its
supposedly magical curing power and its extremely high
value driven by trade and the demand of breeding farms has
led to its demise in the wild. While populations previously
seemed to tolerate low-volume collection for centuries, the
last three decades of intense collecting and massive habitat
destruction and degradation have brought the species to the
brink of extinction in the wild.
The species was once distributed throughout the hill
streams and marshes in low- to mid-elevation forests of the
southern Chinese Provinces of Fujian, Hong Kong, Guang-
dong, Hainan, and Guangxi, but has now been largely extir-
pated from most of its former habitat.
Some regard Vietnamese and Laotian populations of
Three-striped Box Turtles as a separate species, Cuora cy-
clornata, but this interpretation is not currently widely ac-
cepted. If this potential taxonomic split were to gain scien-
tic acceptance, then the distribution and population size of
each of the two species would be even more precarious than
previously feared. Complicating this further is that some pop-
ulations seem to show a hybrid origin and commercial farms
usually produce a mixture of different genetic lineages.
Less than 10 specimens per year are still encountered on
the Chinese mainland, with a last stronghold in Hong Kong,
where in recent years illegal trapping has led to a sharp de-
cline. Prices have skyrocketed to USD 20,000 being paid
for an adult wild caught male, since the farms so far only
produce females because of high incubation temperatures.
Furthermore, wild-caught animals are said to have more cu-
rative medicinal powers. In recent years, owning this species
seems to have become a kind of investment and status sym-
bol in China.
Due to the high demand and value of this species, its
survival in the wild is unlikely without effective protection.
The targeted protection of the last remaining populations
and increased breeding efforts of genetically pure groups,
as carried out jointly by Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden
and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department,
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government,
are important to preserve the future of this species. Addi-
tionally, the maintenance of ex-situ assurance colonies such
as the one at the International Turtle Center at Zoo Münster,
Germany, partially supported by the Shellshock Campaign
of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and the
Turtle Conservation Fund, is critically important in order to
maintain options for possible future repatriation efforts.
Cuora trifasciata from Hong Kong. Photo by Paul Crow.
Distribution of Cuora trifasciata.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Ploughshare Tortoise, Angonoka
Astrochelys yniphora (Vaillant 1885); Family Testudinidae
Africa: Madagascar
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A4ad, B2ab(v), C1, E
CITES: Appendix I
This large and strikingly beautiful
tortoise is one of the rarest tortoises in
the world. Males of this species have
an elongated plough-shaped front spike
comprised of the gular scute emerging
from the plastron. Males use this pro-
jection in breeding jousts aimed at ip-
ping over their opponents in an attempt
to demonstrate male dominance and the
opportunity to mate with females.
Evidence that this species was trad-
ed by Arabs dates back as far as the 8th
century and since then Ploughshare Tor-
toises were collected to provision ships,
particularly European. More recently
their declines have been the result of
wildres, deforestation, and most im-
portantly, extraordinary pressure from
poaching for the illegal pet trade. Al-
though this species has received con-
servation attention since the 1970s,
and intensively since the 1990s, there
are now only a few hundred adult and
subadult animals estimated to survive in the wild. Though
certainly without the conservation attention it has received
it is unlikely that this species would still exist in the wild.
Today the species can only be found in ve geographically
isolated populations within a tiny area of dry scrubland in
northwestern Madagascar, encompassed within the bound-
aries of Baly Bay National Park, created in 1998.
A captive breeding facility for the Ploughshare Tor-
toise, managed by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for
the Malagasy Government, exists at Ampijoroa, Madagas-
car, a reintroduction program is in progress at Baly Bay,
and eld-based research on the species has been conduct-
ed over the years. Local enforcement capacity from park
and village patrols is somewhat limited and under severe
pressure from poachers. Recent political unrest in Mada-
gascar has led to increased poaching activities, with many
specimens of this rare species showing up in Asian mar-
kets. Single individuals can sell for around USD 10,000
as pets on the international black market, and these high
prices create great incentives to poach the remaining wild
animals. There are many Ploughshare Tortoises held il-
legally in Asia, but international efforts aimed at curbing
the illegal high-end pet trade are beginning to gain some
For this impressive and unique animal to continue to
exist in the wild it is imperative to reinforce effective and
reliable enforcement patrols inside and outside the core
protected and reintroduction areas. Durrell Wildlife Con-
servation Trust and the Turtle Conservancy have begun an
initiative in partnership that is making proper patrol boats,
fuel, and other resources continually available. Full-time
on-site research programs need to be continued as an in-
dependent presence and monitoring system to keep close
watch on what is happening to the animals and to act as
a deterrent to poachers. In addition, increased efforts are
needed to enforce legal protection and to prosecute those
who are driving the illegal trade, both nationally and inter-
nationally. The many animals now held illegally need to be
moved into multiple secure captive breeding programs in
order to prepare for anticipated repatriation as protection
improves within the species’ native habitat.
Astrochelys yniphora female from Baly Bay N.P., Madagascar. Photo by Anders G.J. Rhodin.
Distribution of Astrochelys yniphora.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Burmese Star Tortoise
Geochelone platynota (Blyth 1863); Family Testudinidae
Asia: Myanmar
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1cd+2cd, C2a
CITES: Appendix II, as Testudinidae spp.
The Burmese Star Tortoise
is a “star” among tortoises with
beautiful well-dened symmetri-
cal star patterns radiating across its
carapace. It is also one of the rar-
est tortoises in the world, having
a limited distribution that is under
intensive human induced pressures.
Its close relative, the Indian Star
Tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is
very similar in appearance, but the
Burmese Star Tortoise can be easily
distinguished by having a greater
star pattern on the carapace and a
horny claw at the tip of the male’s
tail. An additional distinguishing
feature is that the plastron of Geo-
chelone platynota has dark blotches
and lacks the ‘stars’ found on the
plastron of G. elegans.
Unfortunately, very little is known
about this species in the wild, as it
is one of the least studied of all tor-
toises. Based on the limited data available, we know that
it inhabits the dry zone of central Myanmar (Burma),
where it occurs in deciduous forests, thorn scrub, and
pastures. The Burmese Star Tortoise is locally collected
for human consumption; however, the demand for its
meat from neighboring China, as well as its purported
medicinal benets, has resulted in intensive unsustain-
able hunting. More recently it has become highly prized
in the international pet trade, further exacerbating these
hunting pressures, resulting in almost total extirpation of
all animals from the wild. Recent surveys indicate that
only a few extremely small fragmented populations re-
main, with most previous populations entirely destroyed
(based on recent eldwork there are essentially no vi-
able populations remaining in the wild). The species was
previously known to occur in two protected areas, Shwe
Settaw Wildlife Sanctuary and the Minzontaung Wild-
life Sanctuary, but today only captive populations exist
under strict lock and key at breeding facilities in these
sanctuaries, with theft being of great concern.
Conservation measures for the species include the
creation of in-situ and ex-situ assurance colonies. Breed-
ing programs exist in Myanmar with the hopes that the
offspring can be released back into the wild at some fu-
ture point. In addition, the Turtle Survival Alliance has
been instrumental in sharing husbandry techniques and
has invested heavily in building expanded captive man-
agement facilities, that has resulted in increased captive
breeding success. Recently, the Turtle Conservancy es-
tablished an agreement with the Taipei Zoo (these two
organizations have the largest captive breeding group of
Burmese Star Tortoises outside of Myanmar) to return
young produced at both facilities to Myanmar for even-
tual release back into the wild. However, a tough road
lies ahead before any releases can be successful because
any wild tortoise stands a high chance of being collect-
ed. Education awareness programs need to be initiated
so that this trend can be reversed. Additionally, habitat
destruction needs to be halted, as the rapid rate of loss
may not leave any suitable habitat for future tortoise re-
Geochelone platynota from Myanmar at Behler Chelonian Center. Photo by Brian D. Horne.
Distribution of Geochelone platynota.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle, Timor Snake-necked Turtle
Chelodina mccordi Rhodin 1994; Family Chelidae
Asia: Indonesia (Lesser Sundas [Roti]), Timor-Leste
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1d, B1+2e
CITES: Appendix II
The Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle
is a moderate-sized freshwater turtle (cara-
pace length up to about 24 cm) of the side-
necked family Chelidae, occurring on the
tiny island of Roti just west of Timor in
southeastern Indonesia, as well as the east-
ern tip of the island of Timor in the new
country of Timor-Leste. It has three cur-
rently recognized subspecies: C. m. mc-
cordi (Western Roti Island Snake-necked
Turtle), C. m. roteensis (Eastern Roti Island
Snake-necked Turtle), and C. m. timorensis
(Timor Snake-necked Turtle) from Timor-
Leste. The Timor-Leste subspecies may in
fact be a separate species, isolated from the
Roti populations, but is currently consid-
ered a subspecies of C. mccordi. Chelodina
mccordi is geographically isolated from all
other Chelodina species that occur in Aus-
tralia and New Guinea, and represents a
relictual form whose biogeographic origin
appears to have been by vicariant dispersal
from northwestern Australia, with Roti and
Timor originally having formed a part of
the splintered edge of the Gondwanan tectonic plate.
Chelodina mccordi has an extremely limited distribu-
tion and, since its description as a new species in 1994, its
Roti populations have been subjected to intense collection
pressure for the international pet trade market, which has
driven its Roti populations into virtual commercial extinction
within ten years of its description. Recent eld surveys on
Roti have documented extremely depleted remaining popu-
lations still being impacted by persistent collection efforts,
with remaining habitat areas also being reduced by agricul-
tural development and conversion of swamps and marshland
to rice elds. The small population in Timor-Leste may still
be in relatively good shape and possibly protected within
the boundaries of the newly-created Conis Santana National
Park, but the potential for exploitation of these populations
is great, and the species faces a very uncertain future.
No major protected areas exist on Roti in C. mccordi
habitat, but a previously proposed area, Tanjung Puku-
watu on the Tapuafu Peninsula in northeastern Roti, pro-
vides signicant potential for critical habitat protection for
some remnant turtle populations. Captive breeding efforts
through ex-situ assurance colonies also provide some hope
for saving the species, but improved control of persistent
illegal trade and creation of secure protected areas on Roti
are urgently needed to prevent C. mccordi from becoming
extinct in the wild.
Chelodina m. mccordi from central Roti Island, Indonesia. Photo by Anders G.J. Rhodin.
Distribution of Chelodina mccordi. C. m. timorensis from Timor-Leste. Photo by Bonggi R. Ibarrondo.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle
Chitra chitra Nutaphand 1986; Family Trionychidae
Asia: Indonesia (Java, Sumatra), Malaysia (West), Thailand
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1cd, B1+2c
CITES: Appendix II, as Chitra spp.
Of all the softshell turtles, Chitra chitra is
arguably the most attractively patterned spe-
cies, and it may also be the heaviest and larg-
est of all freshwater turtles. The maximum re-
corded weight of a C. chitra is 254 kg (560 lbs)
and it can grow to a carapace length in excess
of 120 cm or 4 feet. Chitra chitra is a highly
specialized ambush predator, feeding almost
exclusively on live sh, and has evolved spe-
cic neck bones and muscles that enable it to
capture its prey in a very unique manner. It cap-
tures its prey by rapidly extending its head in
a striking manner while greatly expanding its
mouth and throat. This expansion creates a vor-
tex that vacuums sh into its mouth in the blink
of an eye.
Across its range, C. chitra is under threat
from a combination of accidental mortality as
sheries bycatch, targeted hunting for food and
the pet trade, and egg harvesting, which is high-
ly effective and causes a severe impact, as the
species is extremely predictable in both its nest
site selection and timing of nesting. It is also
impacted by the creation of reservoirs that alter
the ow regimes of its native rivers. When wa-
ter is released from the dams during the dry sea-
son, it often oods the nesting beaches effectively drown-
ing the developing eggs. Furthermore, as it is a sit and wait
predator that is highly dependent on capturing live prey,
decreases in water clarity (increased turbidity) as a result
of catchment erosion and river alteration greatly reduces its
efciency in capturing sh.
The Thai Fisheries Department has a program to breed
this species in captivity for the purpose of releasing off-
spring back into the wild to augment the declining popula-
tions. Although the program had initial success and well
over 100 hatchlings were produced, it was subsequently
impacted by disease among the offspring and cessation of
reproduction of the captive adults. Priority conservation
measures include reassessing the captive breeding and
headstarting program in Thailand. This needs to be coupled
with increasing public awareness about the conservation
of the species with the hopes of reducing the impacts of
targeted hunting and egg gathering, as well as safeguarding
key breeding and feeding areas from collection and hunt-
ing impacts. Similar conservation actions then need to be
implemented for other populations in Peninsular Malaysia
and Indonesia.
Chitra chitra adult from Thailand. Photo by Chris Tabaka.
Distribution of Chitra chitra. Chitra chitra hatchling from Thailand. Photo by Peter Paul van Dijk.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Vietnamese Pond Turtle, Annam Pond Turtle
Mauremys annamensis (Siebenrock 1903); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Vietnam
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1d+2d
CITES: Appendix II
The Vietnamese Pond
Turtle is a mostly aquatic me-
dium-sized turtle, up to 29 cm
carapace length, of particular
conservation concern. This
highly localized endemic is
found only in coastal lowland
wetlands and rivers of a few
provinces of central Vietnam
from Da Nang south to Phu
The species has suf-
fered greatly from loss of its
lowland habitats which have
almost entirely been lost or
severely degraded and frag-
mented. Conversion to agri-
cultural land, particularly for
rice cultivation, as well as in-
creasing urban developments
in these highly populated areas
are to blame. During the 1980s
and early 1990s the species was also seen in wildlife trade
in large numbers, but rapidly diminished with wild caught
animals now extremely rare. Despite being given full legal
protection under Vietnamese law, the species is still sought
after for sale to international markets, particularly China,
but also increasingly for local consumption in Vietnam for
traditional medicinal beliefs.
With the species almost extirpated throughout its range,
the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Cleveland Metroparks
Zoo conducted a number of eld surveys in 2006 which
resulted in the capture of an animal in Quang Nam Prov-
ince. This was the rst documented wild Vietnamese Pond
Turtle found in native habitat since 1939. Since 2007 a
turtle-focused conservation team has been based in central
Vietnam. They have identied additional possible remain-
ing habitat for the species, are conducting regular commu-
nity activities and working with local wildlife protection
authorities. With the species reproducing well in captive
collections in the USA and Europe, where well-established
Taxon Management Groups have been extremely success-
ful, the best option for conservation of the Vietnamese
Pond Turtle appears to be release and reintroduction into
native habitat in conjunction with enforcement, awareness,
and community engagement. The ATP is working in Quang
Ngai with the Forest Protection Department to establish a
Turtle Assurance Colony (TAC) to allow animals to be re-
patriated. As it is currently believed that no existing pro-
tected habitat exists in which the species occurs, a Species
Habitat Conservation Area (SHCA) is also being planned
to secure critical habitat.
Mauremys annamensis at Fort Worth Zoo. Photo by Rick Reed.
Distribution of Mauremys annamensis. M. annamensis hatched at Fort Worth Zoo. Photo by Andrew Brinker.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Central American River Turtle
Dermatemys mawii Gray 1847; Family Dermatemydidae
North / Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras (?), Mexico (Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Veracruz)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A2abd+4d
CITES: Appendix II
The last remaining representative of a turtle
family dating back 65 million years, this unique
species reaches a carapace length of up to 65 cm
and can weigh as much as 22 kg. It is entirely
aquatic, inhabiting rivers, lagoons, and other
large wetlands in southern Mexico, Guatemala,
Belize, and possibly Honduras. It is so adapted to
living in water that it can barely move on land or
even hold its head up when out of the water. This
would seemingly present a problem for nesting,
however, rather than emerging onto land to nest,
females dig nests on beaches just below the wa-
terline during oods, and the eggs only begin de-
veloping after the water level drops. Like many
neotropical turtles, this species is crepuscular
or nocturnal; often spending the day resting on
the bottom of rivers and lagoons, anywhere the water is deep.
Well oxygenated water is preferred. The species is able to ex-
tract oxygen from the water via special vascular tissue in its
mouth, and is therefore able to remain submerged for a long
time without surfacing to breathe. During high water periods
animals feed on shoreline vegetation. When water levels rise
(3–8 m in some habitats) the turtles have access to a greater
variety of these foods in ooded forests.
Laboratory incubation demonstrates that there is a wide
range in incubation periods (115–223 days) of the eggs, which
can be attributed to embryonic diapause and estivation. Em-
bryonic diapause (a temporary halt in development) allows
the embryo to survive prolonged periods of cool temperatures
or low oxygen environments. Growth of the embryo only re-
sumes when incubation temperatures are suitably warm and
nests are no longer saturated with water. In addition, fully de-
veloped embryos estivate in the egg until hatching is stimulat-
ed by an increase in soil moisture from the rst summer rains.
Hatchlings differ from adults in having the tip of their snout
bright orange; this color fades in the rst two years to a pale
yellow. Sex determination is temperature-dependent (as it is
in many turtle species) with temperatures above 28°C produc-
ing females and temperatures of 25–26°C producing males.
This species is highly esteemed for local consumption,
and intensive collection, particularly for Easter festivals, has
depleted populations severely across its range, to the point
where many local populations have been entirely extirpated.
Many NGO's have been involved in helping to document sur-
vival status and developing conservation solutions. The Turtle
Survival Alliance is currently conducting surveys throughout
Belize to assess status there, and is helping to develop a recov-
ery plan, Wildlife Conservation Society has been doing work
in Guatemala, Conservation International and Conacyt have
supported population studies in Mexico, and the Turtle Con-
servation Fund has provided support for several projects on
the species. Priority actions needed include local enforcement
of existing protective regulations in the range countries, and
developing, coordinating, and implementing a comprehensive
conservation and recovery strategy for the species. This should
include a consideration of reintroduction and headstarting to
bolster remaining wild populations and, possibly, managed
commercial production systems to reduce poaching pressure.
Dermatemys mawii female from Guatemala. Photo by Melvin Merida, WCS.
Distribution of Dermatemys mawii. Dermatemys mawii adult male. Photo by Gracia Syed.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Madagascan Big-headed Turtle
Erymnochelys madagascariensis (Grandidier 1867); Family Podocnemididae
Africa: Madagascar
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A4d
CITES: Appendix II
This evolutionarily distinct
and biogeographically endemic
freshwater turtle is the only
Old World representative of the
family Podocnemididae (the re-
maining members of this fam-
ily occur in South America). As
its common name suggests, this
species has a large head, which
in fully-grown adults shows
a strong temporal helmet, or
casque. Its jaws are extremely
powerful with a slight hook at
their apex that may enhance its
ability to feed on mollusks, sh,
amphibians, and even birds;
however, adults also commonly
eat seeds from trees and palms
as well as aquatic vegetation.
Additionally, the eyes of this
species are situated forward
on the head; thus it needs only
to extend a small portion of its
head above the water surface to observe potential prey,
while the vast majority of its body remains submerged.
The low at prole and brown to slate-gray color of the
carapace makes this species look remarkably like a rock,
additionally camouaging it from potential prey and preda-
This species was formerly widely distributed in west-
ern Madagascar’s west-owing rivers and oodplain lakes.
However, its current distribution is extremely fragmented
due to overexploitation. The species can be found in seven
protected areas in Madagascar: Ankarafantsika, Baly Bay,
and Bemaraha National Parks, and the new reserves of Ma-
nambolamaty, Ambondrobe, Menabe-Antimena, and Ma-
havavy-Kinkony. The réré, as the species is locally called,
is well known to the local people, as it is a large turtle, up
to 50 cm carapace length and 17 kg; and due to its much-
desired meat, it is heavily collected for local and commer-
cial consumption. Increasing pressure from a dramatically
growing human population and changes in shing habits
towards the use of nets, which results in substantial by-
catch of this species, is having dramatic deleterious effects
on its populations. In addition, locals also harvest eggs for
consumption, thereby reducing recruitment to the popula-
tions. In some areas, few adults remain, thus recruitment to
the population will be non-existent and the species’ surviv-
al will be dependent on the remaining juveniles surviving
until adulthood.
Survey data in the past three decades document an on-
going decline of the species. Durrell Wildlife Conservation
Trust and Conservation International, along with Mada-
gascar National Parks, have been involved in a program to
protect the species, reintroduce headstarted animals, and
engage local communities at several sites in Madagascar.
This conservation work has been closely integrated within
the local culture and traditional conservation practices of
the local communities, which has been a key to its suc-
cess, with populations at Ankarafantsika as a result show-
ing some improvement in status. This program has also
received support from the Turtle Conservation Fund, but
needs substantial increases in resources and intensity with
an emphasis on reducing the harvest of adult animals.
Erymnochelys madagascariensis from Ankarafantsika, Madagascar. Photo by Anders G.J. Rhodin.
Distribution of Erymnochelys madagascariensis.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Southern River Terrapin
Batagur afnis (Cantor 1847); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Cambodia, Indonesia (Sumatra), Malaysia (West), Myanmar (?), Singapore (extirpated), Thailand (extirpated?), Vietnam (extirpated)
IUCN Red List: NE, Not Evaluated; TFTSG Draft: CR, Critically Endangered
CITES: Appendix I
The plight of this species underscores
the importance of proper taxonomy in
conservation of wildlife. This critically
endangered large river turtle was until
recently considered to be a wide-ranging
species (from India to Indonesia), but ge-
netic analysis determined that it was two
separate species: the Northern River Ter-
rapin, Batagur baska, and the Southern
River Terrapin, B. afnis. A recent study
has further split B. afnis into two sub-
species: the Western Malay River Terra-
pin, B. a. afnis, and the Eastern Malay
River Terrapin, B. a. edwardmolli.
Living in the estuaries of large rivers
and their associated mangroves, as well
as in the upper reaches of the rivers, B.
afnis was once a highly abundant spe-
cies that was well integrated into human
culture. Often the eggs of these turtles
were so highly esteemed that they were
deemed the sole property of the ruling kings. Sadly, the
turtles were overexploited for their esh and eggs and only
small isolated populations remain. Much like its sister spe-
cies to the north, habitat loss and degradation such as ram-
pant sand-mining, dam construction, and pollution have also
greatly exacerbated this species’ decline. In addition, large-
scale shrimp farms that discharge efuents into rivers cause
salinization and negatively impact turtles by killing many of
the aquatic plant species that they feed upon.
Today there are multiple conservation projects for
B. afnis in the countries where it still occurs, however,
these programs are not well integrated. Additionally, the
programs have not yet been able to focus on reducing adult
mortality and have only been successful in securing the
hatching of offspring from nests laid naturally or at captive
breeding centers.
In Peninsular Malaysia, where some wild breeding
populations still exist, government programs have focused
on egg incubation, headstarting, and release. This approach
has not been successful in arresting the decline of the spe-
cies along the west coast of the peninsula, where the num-
ber of wild clutches deposited have plummeted from a few
thousand to less than 40 in just the past 20 years. It is be-
lieved that rampant poaching of terrapins for illegal trade
along the west coast has contributed to the rapid decline of
this region’s turtle populations. Yet, a similar conservation
approach on the Terengganu River on the east coast of the
peninsula appears to have helped sustain a small nesting
population. As recently as 2008, 100 wild nests were col-
lected along this river for incubation.
A research and conservation project initiated in 2004
on the population on the Setiu River on Peninsular Ma-
laysia’s eastern coast has made headway into some long
unanswered questions about biology and the effectiveness
of headstarting for the species. Monitoring of released
headstarted terrapins has demonstrated their ability to
survive and grow in the wild, but whether they survive
the 10–20 years needed to reach sexual maturity remains
to be seen.
In Cambodia, where the species was previously
thought to be extirpated, the recent discovery of a very
small population of no more than a handful of nesting
adults has received focused conservation attention from the
Wildlife Conservation Society with support from Conser-
vation International and the Turtle Conservation Fund.
Batagur afnis male in breeding color from Setiu River, Malaysia. Photo by Eng Heng Chan.
Distribution of Batagur afnis.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Red-crowned Roofed Turtle
Batagur kachuga (Gray 1831); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Bangladesh, India (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal), Nepal
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1cd
CITES: Appendix II, as Batagur spp.
The last known stronghold for this
large river turtle (up to 60 cm carapace
length) is on the Chambal River in
central India, however, small isolated
populations may still exist in the Gan-
ges and Brahmaputra River basins, in-
cluding in Bangladesh. It has also been
reported as very rare in Nepal, where
it breeds along a few rivers. No more
than approximately 500 adult females
remain of a species that once had a
very large range. The species has been
decimated due to high levels of hunt-
ing and habitat degradation, including
pollution and large-scale water extrac-
tion projects for agriculture and drink-
ing purposes. The main anthropogenic
threats to the remaining population are
accidental drowning of adults in illegal
shing nets, sand-mining, agricultural
cultivation on sand banks and bars, water diversion, and
irregular ow from upstream dams.
The species demonstrates marked sexual dimorphism,
with males being more brightly colored and smaller than
females. Males during the breeding season display vibrant
head patterns with bright blues, yellows, and reds. Expres-
sion of breeding coloration to this extant is very unusual in
turtles. Females nest from March through mid-April, lay-
ing 11–30 eggs that hatch just before monsoonal rains after
a nearly three-month incubation period.
The Turtle Survival Alliance, the San Diego Zoo Insti-
tute for Conservation Research, and the Madras Crocodile
Bank Trust have been jointly engaged in a conservation
program on the National Chambal (River) Sanctuary since
2005. This has had good success, with a series of river-
side hatcheries, two headstarting rearing facilities, poacher
conversion initiatives, and public awareness campaigns.
To date the program has produced over 4000 hatchling B.
kachuga; however, during the monsoon rains that ood the
river, released turtles may leave the sanctuary and the pro-
tection it affords and migrate to less protected or unpro-
tected sections of the river.
With the presumed low survival rate of hatchlings
to adulthood (a minimum of 10–15+ years is required to
reach maturity for females); there is great need to maintain
production of thousands of hatchlings per year to hope-
fully offset the decline of turtle populations in the Cham-
bal River. The determination of survival and movement
through radio-tracking of headstarted juveniles is needed
to gauge the success of the project. Additional captive as-
surance colonies need to be developed to help maintain
an adequate genetic diversity of animals in case the single
largest population of these turtles is lost due to a man-made
or natural disaster. Currently the species is captive-bred at
Madras Crocodile Bank and captive colonies are being
maintained there and at Kukrail Gharial (and Turtle) Re-
hab Centre in Lucknow. This needs to be expanded in other
zoos and captive centers across the species’ historic range.
Additional surveys need to be conducted to determine if
there are any other remaining populations. Reintroduction
programs should be initiated along other protected habitats
such as the Son, Kane, Betwa, and other rivers in the his-
toric range. Continued efforts need to focus on reducing
the incidental by-catch of this species in shing nets. New
surveys have been launched in Nepal by CARON and in
Bangladesh by CARINAM to determine the current status
of those populations.
Batagur kachuga male in breeding color from Chambal River, India. Photo by Brian D. Horne.
Distribution of Batagur kachuga.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Sulawesi Forest Turtle
Leucocephalon yuwonoi (McCord, Iverson, and Boeadi 1995); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Indonesia (Sulawesi)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1cd+2cd, C1
CITES: Appendix II
This medium-sized (car-
apace length up to 28 cm)
semi-aquatic turtle endemic
to the Indonesian island of
Sulawesi was originally found
in Chinese food markets in
relatively high abundance in
the early 1990s. Frank Yu-
wono, after whom the species
is named, obtained the rst
specimen known to science
from a market in Gorontalo,
Sulawesi. The species was
formally described to science
in 1995, and was found to be
so evolutionarily distinct that
it was reassigned to a new
monotypic genus in 2000.
Males are easily distin-
guished from females by their
pale white to cream-colored
heads, while females are more
darkly colored. While not much is known about the nat-
ural history of this species, it is thought to spend the day
in the forest and only move to water after dark to feed,
rest, and possibly mate. Females lay one, or occasion-
ally two eggs, although multiple clutches in a year are
Although it is a poorly known species, it is evident
that habitat destruction from commercial logging, small-
scale agriculture, and clearing of forest for oil palm
plantations has greatly reduced the forest cover that the
turtle depends upon for its survival, and deforestation
rates in Sulawesi are among the highest in the world.
This habitat destruction, collection for the commercial
meat and pet markets, and its very low reproductive out-
put are cause for great concern. This species is thought
to occur in three protected areas, however, it has yet to
be conrmed in these localities. Population assessments
have not been completed anywhere within its range. De-
spite this, the Indonesian government has set unsustain-
able export quotas, and these quotas have already been
exceeded on multiple occasions. This is in addition to an
unknown number of animals that are being exported il-
legally or due to inadequate species identication skills
of wildlife trade inspectors.
Priorities for this species include eld research into
basic natural history, including demography, habitat
use, diet, and reproduction, so that effective conserva-
tion measures can be developed. In addition, surveys
throughout the range are required, particularly in pro-
tected areas. Habitat conservation, while necessary, will
not be sufcient to maintain this species, as so little
is known about its natural history. Ex-situ and in-situ
captive breeding programs are needed to supplement
populations and act as assurance colonies. In-situ efforts
should focus on the parks and other protected areas, and
could be used as release points for captive raised young.
However, thus far captive propagation has proven dif-
cult, with only a few hatchlings being produced. A bet-
ter understanding of the species’ natural biology and in-
creased efforts by herpetoculturists and zoos will likely
lead to successful captive management.
Leucocephalon yuwonoi from Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo by Cris Hagen.
Distribution of Leucocephalon yuwonoi.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Western Swamp Turtle
Pseudemydura umbrina Siebenrock 1901; Family Chelidae
Australia (Western Australia)
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1c, B1+2c, C1+2b, D
CITES: Appendix I
A small turtle exquisitely
adapted to life in the ephem-
eral clay swamps of the Swan
River valley of Perth. This
small freshwater turtle of an
ancient and distinct family
has a prominent spiny neck
and grows no larger than 15
cm shell length. This species
is the only turtle known to
dig its nest with its forelimbs;
all other turtles use their hind
limbs. It spends many months
estivating during the hot dry
summer, emerging for a few
months to feed and reproduce
during the wet season. First
described in 1901 based on a
specimen acquired by the Vi-
enna Natural History Museum
in 1839, the species was only rediscovered in its natural
habitat in 1954. By then most of its habitat had already
been drained and converted to suburbs, clay pits, vine-
yards, and cattle pastures. Although the wild population
was estimated at over 200 in the 1960s, less than 20 adults
remained by the late 1980s.
The species is restricted to the Perth region of Western
Australia where it persists in only two small nature reserves
of a few hectares each, and a multi-decade captive breeding
effort and intense protection through fencing and predator
exclusion, headed by Gerald Kuchling, has resulted in im-
proved survival rates in recent years. Reintroduction and in-
troductions of captive-bred turtles more than quadrupled the
overall population size in the wild, but despite these efforts,
successful natural recruitment is currently only occurring in
the smallest population which had persisted on its own. Un-
derstanding the effects of extreme seasonal changes on the
turtles’ biology and behavior proved to be the key to a suc-
cessful captive breeding program, which together with in-
tensive protection of the remaining wetlands and reintroduc-
tion has averted near-certain extinction. Despite this modest,
hard-won progress, the species remains under severe threat
from introduced predators (foxes and rats) as well as sto-
chastic events related to climate change: drought, increased
aridity, drying ponds, and bushres
A collaborative research program involving different
Universities and government agencies started in 2010 which
will integrate biophysiological and hydrological models to
identify wetlands where Pseudemydura could survive and
reproduce under drier, hotter climates. Continuing Federal
and State funding of the recovery program will be needed to
establish additional assurance reintroduction and introduc-
tion sites to ensure survival of this ephemeral swamp spe-
cialist in a changing and drying climate.
Pseudemydura umbrina from Western Australia. Photo by Gerald Kuchling.
Distribution of Pseudemydura umbrina. P. umbrina in its tiny natural reserve. Photos by Gerald Kuchling.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Hoge’s Side-necked Turtle
Mesoclemmys hogei (Mertens 1967); Family Chelidae
South America: Brazil (Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo [?])
IUCN Red List: EN, Endangered B1+2c; TFTSG Draft: CR, Critically Endangered
CITES: Not Listed
This moderate-sized species (cara-
pace length to 38 cm) was described based
on a single animal discovered in the ser-
pentarium tanks of the Instituto Butantan
in São Paulo, Brazil. This poorly known
Brazilian endemic species has one of the
smallest ranges of any of the South Amer-
ican members of the family Chelidae, re-
stricted to small portions of the states of
Espiríto Santo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de
Janeiro. The range of this species appears
to be smaller than originally thought, as it
does not apparently occur at its doubtful
type locality in São Paulo. If accurate, the
type locality would result in a fragmented
range with an essentially impassable geo-
graphic barrier of a large swath of land
and forest at elevations higher than this
species is thought to occur.
Originally described in the genus
Phrynops, the species has since been reclassied as a mem-
ber of the closely related genus Mesoclemmys. Primitive
in many of its osteologic features, it may instead represent
a distinct and monotypic genus with some similarities to
Australian chelid turtles. In females the lateral portions of
the dorsal head have a variable area of dark wine red color
suffusion, a unique feature among members of the genera
Phrynops and Mesoclemmys.
All conrmed collected specimens (only 10 in muse-
ums from 9 localities), have been found in low-lying ar-
eas under 500 m elevation along the Rio Paraíba drainage
in the states of Rio de Janiero and southern Minas Gerais
(notably the Rio Carangola basin), and north to coastal Es-
pírito Santo in Brazil. The Rio Paraíba is under heavy pres-
sures of habitat destruction due to human uses, including
pollution and deforestation and the resulting alteration of
watercourses causing erosion and siltation.
The species is apparently omnivorous, feeding on meat
and sh in captivity, but with stomach contents in the wild
yielding leaves, seeds, and plant stems. Nothing is known
about reproductive biology, and nesting, eggs, or hatchlings
have not been described. No data on growth are available.
Currently, nothing is known regarding total popula-
tion size —only localized populations are known, and no
protected areas occur within the range of this species. The
species appears to be rare throughout its range, and may
occur as a series of disjunct populations with very low
overall density. Concerted efforts at locating the species
in the main Rio Paraíba drainage have often been unsuc-
cessful. However, a few populations occur along the north-
ern periphery of the Rio Paraíba basin, such as in the Rio
Carangola in southeastern Minas Gerais. Unfortunately,
even that river is threatened by habitat degradation and the
population of M. hogei there has decreased by over 15%
annually over the last ca. 17 years.
The species is in desperate need of studies to deter-
mine its actual distribution, population levels, specic
threats, and general ecology. Basic life history data are un-
available, and no rational management plans can be imple-
mented unless more is known about the species. A protect-
ed area for the species has been recommended near Faria
Lemos on the Rio Carangola. Establishment of a captive
population at a research facility within the species’ natural
range should be considered to allow for detailed reproduc-
tive biology studies and to establish a breeding colony, but
the establishment of captive breeding colonies outside the
species’ range should be discouraged.
Mesoclemmys hogei female from Espírito Santo, Brazil. Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier.
Distribution of Mesoclemmys hogei.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Geometric Tortoise
Psammobates geometricus (Linnaeus 1758); Family Testudinidae
Africa: South Africa
IUCN Red List: EN, Endangered A1ac, B1+2c; SARCA/TFTSG Draft: CR, Critically Endangered
CITES: Appendix I
The Geometric Tortoise is an excel-
lent example of convergent evolution
due to its striking resemblance to star
tortoises of India and Burma. However,
this beautiful tortoise is not closely re-
lated to its Asian look-alikes, and can
be distinguished by the presence of a
nuchal scute on the anterior carapace. As
its Latin name suggests—psammos and
bates means “inhabitant of the sands”—
this species is found in low-lying areas
of the Western Cape Province, South Af-
rica, with acidic, sandy and nutrient-poor
shale and alluvium soils with sparse veg-
etation, characterized by grasses and low
to medium-high shrubs.
This species once occurred through-
out the low-lying West Coast and inland
renosterveld from Gordon’s Bay to
Piketberg, and in the Upper Breede Riv-
er and Ceres valleys. Although its historic range was never
vast, it now occupies only approximately 22 km2 (8.5 sq.mi.)
of highly fragmented remnants of suitable shale renosterveld
and alluvium fynbos habitat in the Western Cape. Habitat
destruction for agriculture, mainly for vineyards and wheat
farming, degradation by invasive non-native plants and ani-
mals, coupled with re suppression and increasing predator
pressure have been, and continue to be, the main threats to
the remaining habitat patches and populations.
This small species does not exceed 20 cm in carapace
length, however, average adult sizes are more typically 10
cm for males and 12.5 cm for females, exhibiting strong
sexual dimorphism with females larger than males and
pronounced differences in plastron concavity, shell shape
and tail size. Sexual maturity in females is reached in 8
to 10 years. Generally active year-round, inactivity may
only occur during the coolest months of the year (June to
August). Breeding behavior and oviposition (1–5 eggs in
1–3 clutches per year) occurs from September to Novem-
ber with hatchlings emerging 6–8 months later in March to
May. Geometric Tortoises may reach ages of up to 30 years
and more.
More than 90% of its former habitat has been destroyed
and this species now occurs in a few small to medium-sized
populations in isolated patches of uncultivated land. Protec-
tion measures include full legal protection, and populations
in both private and provincial nature reserves, as well as
conservation stewardship contract nature reserves, occupy-
ing areas of between 30 and ca. 1000 ha of suitable habitat.
The most pressing conservation need for this species is the
acquisition of more suitable native habitat, and more con-
servation stewardship nature reserves are being negotiated
with private landowners. Management is required to pre-
vent habitat alteration, and in this re-adapted habitat, re
is required to maintain the open nature of the habitat and its
species diversity. However, small tortoise populations are
extremely vulnerable to res and up to 80% mortality can
be expected.
This species does poorly in captivity and a highly man-
aged in-situ breeding facility may be warranted. Because
threats continue to operate in natural habitats, headstarting
is, however, unlikely to improve the status of this species.
A species conservation management plan is imminent, and
the South African Reptile Conservation Assessment has re-
cently determined the species to warrant Critically Endan-
gered status on the IUCN Red List, as noted by the Tortoise
and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group.
Psammobates geometricus from South Africa. Photo by Atherton de Villiers.
Distribution of Psammobates geometricus.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Philippine Forest Turtle
Siebenrockiella leytensis (Taylor 1920); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Philippines (Palawan)
IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered A2d, B1+2c
CITES: Appendix II
The Philippine Forest Turtle
was formerly known from only a few
museum specimens, allegedly col-
lected on the southeastern Philippine
island of Leyte in the early 1920s,
after which it is named. For almost
70 years, biologists were unable to
locate any additional specimens, liv-
ing or dead. Hence, the species took
on a legendary status among turtle
biologists as one of the rarest turtles
in the world. Finally in 1988, a speci-
men was surprisingly purchased in a
food market 650 km west of Leyte,
on the southwestern Philippine is-
land of Palawan. Today, all evidence
suggests that the original descrip-
tion of this species as occurring on
Leyte was erroneous, although it is
possible that early traders had trans-
ported some to Leyte and sold them
in the market where they were rst
discovered. Scientists have only re-
cently completed thorough surveys for this species. Since its
rediscovery in 2004 it is considered endemic to the Palawan
island group.
There is still very little known about this semi-aquatic
species. It has been observed in numerous aquatic habitats
including streams, creeks, and rivers with associated forest
cover, as well as swamps. In addition, it is crepuscular or even
nocturnal, hiding during the day under rocks or in deep earth-
en burrows or natural limestone caves. Its habitat is threatened
by slash-and-burn farming practices, logging, agricultural en-
croachment, and associated habitat degradation.
Yet, the biggest threat to the Philippine Forest Turtle is
its perceived rarity. The demand in the international pet trade
surged when it was rediscovered. Sadly, it continues to be il-
legally exported from the Philippines in signicant numbers,
although the species is protected both locally under Philippine
law, and its trade regulated internationally by CITES. The
Philippines banned its export for commercial purposes. Nu-
merous specimens are now known to occur in North America,
Europe, and Asia, where it sells for exorbitant prices. Surveys
and conscations show that there continues to be an active
trade in the species both for local consumption and export.
Additionally, evidence suggests that some populations of this
species have declined in the recent past and that no adults
larger than 30 cm in carapace length and no hatchlings can be
found in some localities.
Effective conservation actions for this species will re-
quire greater knowledge of the species’ natural history. Fur-
thermore, actions must be intensied to halt its illegal trade
via local and international authorities. Lastly, community
based conservation programs need to be continued to provide
effective long-term in-situ protection of the remaining popula-
tions and their habitats.
Being the focal species of the Philippine Freshwater
Turtle Conservation Program implemented by Katala Foun-
dation, this NGO, with partial support from the Turtle Con-
servation Fund, is addressing these aspects by implementing
a community-based conservation project, conducting popula-
tion size studies, studies on home range, information educa-
tion campaigns, trade surveys, and collaborating with authori-
ties to stop the illegal trade.
Siebenrockiella leytensis male from Palawan, Philippines. Photo by Rafe M. Brown.
Distribution of Siebenrockiella leytensis.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Magdalena River Turtle
Podocnemis lewyana Duméril 1852; Family Podocnemididae
South America: Colombia (Antioquia, Atlántico, Bolívar, Boyacá, Caldas, Cesar, Córdoba, Cundinamarca, La Gua-
jira, Magdalena, Santander, Sucre)
IUCN Red List: EN, Endangered A1bd; TFTSG Draft: CR, Critically Endangered
CITES: Appendix II, as Podocnemis spp.
This large herbivorous river turtle
(carapace length up to 46 cm) is restricted
to remote areas of the Sinú, San Jorge,
Cauca, and Magdalena River drainages of
northwestern Colombia. However, some
evidence suggests that it may also occur
in the Ranchería and Cocorná Rivers.
From a biogeographical perspective, this
species is very interesting as it is the only
member of the Family Podocnemididae to
occur northwest of the Andes Mountains;
all other family members inhabit the Ori-
noco, Essequibo, or Amazon drainages.
It is a typical riverine species, yet it also
inhabits adjacent lagoons, swamps, and
ood-plain marshes. These river turtles, in
areas where they still exist, are often seen
basking alone or in groups on fallen tree
trunks and on riverbanks.
This species faces a multitude of
threats, yet follows a pattern commonly seen among other
declining turtle populations: habitat destruction, pollution,
depredation, and unsustainable exploitation. Many of the
areas surrounding the rivers that this species occupy have
been converted to pastures and plantations, thereby reduc-
ing natural forest habitat and associated ecological pro-
In addition, there are many human activities associated
with these lands, including draining of wetlands for agricul-
ture and irrigation as well as sedimentation and pollution in
remaining wetlands. Added to this are hydrological changes
due to dams that not only alter natural river ow, but also
release water that oods downstream nesting areas causing
egg mortality and recruitment failure.
Heavy subsistence hunting and commercial exploi-
tation throughout this species’ range has greatly reduced
populations to very low densities, and in some areas it has
been extirpated. Local communities use numerous hunting
techniques, including nets, baited hooks, and even diving
for individuals, as well as the use of dogs to nd nesting fe-
males. The meat, eggs, and hatchlings (for the domestic pet
trade) are all actively sought. Furthermore, the nesting sea-
son coincides with the Easter holiday, a period when there is
a high demand for turtle meat due to religious restrictions on
eating other forms of meat. Harvesting females at this time is
especially damaging to the population, as females and their
yearly production of eggs are lost. To a lesser degree this
species is consumed for presumed medicinal value in certain
riverside communities. In addition to harvest for human con-
sumption, lizards, domestic dogs, and pigs depredate nests.
Cattle may also trample nests when crossing nesting areas to
drink from the river.
By Colombian law commercial exploitation of the
Magdalena River Turtle, including eggs and hatchlings, is
prohibited. However, there is no effective implementation of
these laws, leaving the species effectively unprotected. No
protected areas exist within the range of this species. Cur-
rently, some efforts are underway to provide public educa-
tion and improve awareness, yet these efforts need to be in-
creased, giving more emphasis for the need to protect adults,
especially reproductive females. As part of this awareness
campaign, locally-based protection and headstarting pro-
grams are also needed. Currently this species is being bred
in captivity at a private reptile farm in Colombia, so locally-
based captive management efforts are an additional conser-
vation possibility.
Podocnemis lewyana female from Río Magdalena, Colombia. Photo by Alejandra Cadavid.
Distribution of Podocnemis lewyana.
Turtles in Trouble: Top 25+ Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011
Painted Terrapin
Batagur borneoensis (Schlegel and Müller 1845); Family Geoemydidae
Asia: Brunei, Indonesia (Kalimantan, Sumatra), Malaysia (East, West), Thailand
IUCN Red List: CR, Critically Endangered A1bcd
CITES: Appendix II, as Batagur spp.
Male Painted Terrapins in
full breeding color are widely
considered one of the most
strikingly beautiful turtles,
with pure white heads strik-
ingly interrupted by a red
swath bordered by vivid in-
digo running between their
eyes. Additionally the color
of the males’ shells lightens
during the breeding season,
further emphasizing the three
predominant black stripes that
run parallel down the length
of the shell. Such brilliant and
colorful sexual dimorphism is
unusual among turtles.
This Critically Endan-
gered large river turtle was
previously in its own mono-
typic genus Callagur, but has recently been reassigned to
the genus Batagur. Genetic studies have shown that it is
most closely related to Batagur dhongoka (Three-striped
Roofed Turtle) from India and Nepal. Although it is found
sympatrically with B. afnis (Southern River Terrapin) in
many parts of its range, the two species differ in their
choice of nesting sites and breeding seasons. Batagur af-
nis tends to nest on sandy riverbanks, whereas B. bor-
neoensis nests on ocean beaches that are often frequented
by sea turtles that share the same nesting season as well.
Global status has not been fully elucidated for this
species, though most populations are in serious decline.
In Malaysia, wild populations occur in both West and
East Malaysia and the species is believed to be widely
distributed. However, numbers have dwindled due to un-
sustainable exploitation and insufcient and uncoordinat-
ed conservation efforts. Remnant populations can still be
found in Sumatra. Much like other species of large river
turtles, B. borneoensis has suffered from overexploitation
of its esh and eggs as well as habitat loss and degrada-
tion. Development of large-scale agro-based projects that
discharge efuents into the rivers negatively impacts the
riparian vegetation that B. borneoensis relies on for the
majority of its diet. Additionally, this species is often col-
lected from the wild for the pet trade due to its highly at-
tractive coloration. It is also smuggled across borders and
traded illegally for food.
Conservation measures accorded to the species have
been limited and not well-planned. In Malaysia, eggs from
wild nests are incubated in several locations in Tereng-
ganu and Sarawak. Available records indicate that the
numbers in Terengganu have declined from several hun-
dred clutches protected per year to less than 100 in 2010.
Headstarting work has been sporadic and not sustained.
To date, close to 200 headstarted Painted Terrapins have
been released into the Setiu River in Terengganu. Sam-
pling of wild Painted Terrapins caught in shermen’s nets
in the Setiu River 2009 and 2010 has yielded a total of
249 individuals. Eighty of these were large enough that
their sex could be determined, giving a ratio of 50 fe-
males to 30 males.
A survey of the rivers in Terengganu carried out in
2010 indicated the occurrence of B. borneoensis in all riv-
ers in the state. Its occurrence in the rivers of the remain-
ing states of Malaysia has not been well documented.
There is an urgent need to identify all rivers with viable
populations of the species.