ArticlePDF Available

A star attraction: The illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises

  • World Animal Protection
  • World Animal Protection

Abstract and Figures

We report on illegal international trade in Indian Star Tortoises (Geochelone elegans), with a particular focus on India and Thailand.Within India, this species has received protection as a Schedule IV list species of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 for over 40 years. This study documents the illegal trade of 55,000 individuals poached from just one 'trade hub' in India. Although domestic demand persists, these individuals appear to have been primarily sourced to satiate international demand for pets in other Asian countries (e.g. Thailand and China). Since 1975, this species has been included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that regulates all commercial trade. However, an analysis of the CITES trade records relating to Thailand imports (between 2004 and 2013) found large discrepancies indicating potential illegal activity which question the legitimacy of its founding captive stock. Given its role as a major hub of illegal trade activity, both as a consumer and a country of transit, we support calls for Thailand to prohibit private ownership by extending its domestic legislation to also cover non-indigenous tortoise species. In consideration of conservation and animal welfare concerns, we also call for more field research to determine the impacts of illegal trade on wild populations, an updated assessment of its conservation status, increased cooperation between national enforcement agencies, and the implementation of targeted human behaviour change initiatives to help reduce consumer demand for this species.
Content may be subject to copyright.
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 1
A star attraction: The illegal trade in
Indian Star Tortoises
Neil D’Cruze1,2, Bhagat Singh2, omas Morrison2, Jan Schmidt-Burbach2,
David W. Macdonald1, Aniruddha Mookerjee2
1 e Wildlife Conservation Research Unit2, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, e Recanati-
Kaplan Centre, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, OX13 5QL, UK 2 World Animal Protection1, 222
Grays Inn Road, 5th Floor, London, WC1X 8HB, UK
Corresponding author: Neil D’Cruze (
Academic editor: Klaus Henle|Received9 July 2014|Accepted 4 November 2015|Published 9 November 2015
Citation: D’Cruze N, Singh B, Morrison T, Schmidt-Burbach J, Macdonald DW, Mookerjee A (2015) A star attraction:
e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises. Nature Conservation 13: 1–19. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.13.5625
We report on illegal international trade in Indian Star Tortoises (Geochelone elegans), with a particular
focus on India and Thailand.Within India, this species has received protection as a Schedule IV list spe-
cies of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 for over 40 years. This study documents the illegal trade of
55,000 individuals poached from just one ‘trade hub’ in India. Although domestic demand persists, these
individuals appear to have been primarily sourced to satiate international demand for pets in other Asian
countries (e.g. Thailand and China). Since 1975, this species has been included in Appendix II of the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that regu-
lates all commercial trade. However, an analysis of the CITES trade records relating to Thailand imports
(between 2004 and 2013) found large discrepancies indicating potential illegal activity which question
the legitimacy of its founding captive stock. Given its role as a major hub of illegal trade activity, both as a
consumer and a country of transit, we support calls for Thailand to prohibit private ownership by extend-
ing its domestic legislation to also cover non-indigenous tortoise species. In consideration of conservation
and animal welfare concerns, we also call for more field research to determine the impacts of illegal trade
on wild populations, an updated assessment of its conservation status, increased cooperation between
national enforcement agencies, and the implementation of targeted human behaviour change initiatives
to help reduce consumer demand for this species.
CITES, exotic pet, Geochelone elegans, illegal wildlife trade, India, ailand
Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.13.5625
Copyright Neil D’Cruze et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC
BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Launched to accelerate biodiversity conservation
A peer-reviewed open-access journal
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
e illegal trade in wildlife is a big and burgeoning business, with global prots esti-
mated to be worth between $8 – $10 billion US dollars each year (Lawson and Vines
2014). It can have severe negative impacts on wild populations, leading to biodiversity
loss, the introduction of invasive species, and disease (Bush et al. 2014). is unregu-
lated activity also represents a particularly severe threat to wild animal welfare during
illegal capture, transport, sale and subsequent use (Baker et al. 2013). Increased under-
standing of the links with other types of criminal activity, including drug tracking,
organized crime, and terrorism is also highlighting how illegal wildlife trade threatens
the stability and security of the societies involved (Lawson and Vines 2014).
A substantial component of illegal wildlife trade comprises reptiles and their deriva-
tives or products (Nijman et al. 2012). A recent global analysis of reptile trade indicates
an apparent shift away from illegally wild-caught to legal captive-bred sources over
recent decades (Robinson et al. 2015). However, despite this trend, INTERPOL seized
thousands of live reptiles and products worth more than 28 million US dollars follow-
ing a global reptile enforcement operation ‘RAMP’ in 2010 (INTERPOL 2010). More
recently, 10% of the 799 international seizure records reported by EU Member States
in 2012 involved reptiles (TRAFFIC 2013). Some reptile groups (particularly freshwa-
ter turtles and tortoises) are facing disproportionately high extractions and therefore
proportionately high extinction risks, with consumer demand for use as food, curios,
ceremonies, and pets being a major threat to their survival (Robinson et al. 2015).
e illegal trade in Testudines is arguably nowhere more prevalent than in Southeast
Asia (Nijman and Shepherd 2015). Increasing auence across this region is thought to
be stimulating illegal activity (Nijman and Shepherd 2010), leading to steep declines
in populations of a large number of species (Nijman and Shepherd 2015). ailand
has long been known as a major hub of this trade (e.g. van Dijk and Palasuwan 2000)
where large numbers of many species, both native and non-native, are illegally ac-
quired and traded globally as pets (Chng 2014). For example, a recent study focused
on ai enforcement activity revealed that a total of 18,854 freshwater turtles and
tortoises were seized in 53 cases reported between 2008 and 2013 alone (Chng 2014).
Of ongoing and increasing concern from an international illegal wildlife trade
perspective (Shepherd et al 2004, IUCN SSN TTSG 2010, Horne et al 2012, UN-
EP-WCMC 2014), the Indian Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is a relatively small
and adaptable terrestrial species primarily found in scrub forests, grasslands, and some
coastal scrublands of arid and semi-arid regions throughout its wide range (Das 2002).
Nesting seasons coincide with the monsoons that vary depending on the geographic
location (e.g. (May to June in western India) (March to June and October to January
in south-eastern India) Das 2002). is species is famed for the ‘star-like’ radiating
patterns of yellow intermixed with black spots on the pyramidal scutes of its shell that
serve as camouage in the wild (Das 1991) (the literal translation of its local name
‘nakshatra tabelu’ is ‘star tortoise’). However, it is this same patterning that also makes
it a popular pet to collectors around the world (Fyfe 2007).
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 3
e Indian Star Tortoise was last formally assessed in 2000 and is ocially consid-
ered as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List as it was not thought to be threatened
with extinction in any of its range countries (which include India, Pakistan and Sri
Lanka (Das 2002)) at that time (Asian Turtle Trade Working Group 2000). However,
given that it may become so unless trade is closely controlled, in 1975, it has been
included on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (UNEP-WCMC 2011). Consequently, in-
ternational trade in specimens can take place if an export permit or re-export permit is
acquired (CITES 2015). However, to safeguard its wild populations, India had chosen
to adopt stricter domestic measures than CITES (WWF 1994). Placed under Schedule
IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 for over 40 years it has been illegal to possess
and commercially trade this species either within or from India (Sekhar 2004).
Despite this legal protection, according to Chng’s study (2014) the Indian Star Tor-
toise was the most frequent illegally traded tortoise seized by ai authorities between
2008 and 2013 (5966 individuals during 15 cases). Furthermore, this species has also been
observed to be the most common openly traded tortoise at the infamous Chatuchak Mar-
ket in Bangkok, ailand, during the last decade (653 individuals observed for sale). As a
non-indigenous species, it is not currently protected under ailand’s Wild Animal Res-
ervation and Protection Act (WARPA) and enforcement action can only be taken if illegal
trade activity is evidenced. However, especially given the possibility of forged trade permits
and corruption (TRAFFIC 2008), it can be extremely dicult to identify illegally traded
wild sourced individuals and establish the international custody chain once tortoises have
been smuggled into the country (Chng 2014). Consequently, there are legitimate concerns
that the domestic trade of captive bred Indian Star Tortoises in ailand represents a ‘legal
loophole’ facilitating illegal poaching from the wild (e.g. Nijman and Shepherd 2015).
Despite increasing concern regarding the illegal international trade in this species,
there is a lack of current specic information regarding the number of Indian Star Tor-
toises obtained via illegal methods, where the traded animals originate from, and the
sourcing strategies used to supply them (e.g. Asian Turtle Trade Working Group 2000).
To date, there have been four main studies that focussed on the illegal trade in this
species from India (Moll 1983, WWF 1994, Sekhar et al. 2004, Anand et al. 2005).
One of the most recent peer-reviewed studies conservatively estimated that between
10,000 and 20,000 individuals are being poached from the wild in India each year
with authors describing it as ‘an erratic localised enterprise’ which ‘must be contained
before it assumes alarming proportions and becomes established’ (Sekhar et al. 2004).
Given that the trade in this species was last assessed more than 10 years ago, we
conducted eldwork in India over a 17 month period in order to address the follow-
ing questions: (1) Where are the current main centres of poaching activity in India?
(2) How many tortoises are being (illegally) poached from India each year? (3) What
methods are criminal actors using to conduct this illegal trade activity? (4) What are
the intended destinations for animals poached from India? We hope that the informa-
tion gathered will help to guide existing eorts to both preserve remaining wild popu-
lations and safeguard the welfare of individual Indian Star Tortoises.
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
Illegal trade
To help focus our eorts we collected records of illegal trade from the scientic and grey
literature. is semi-systematic review identied the historical occurrence of the illegal
trade in 11 (38%) of the 29 states and in one (14%) of the 7 union territory capitals
in India over the last 20 years (Figure 1). We identied Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi,
Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar
Pradesh and West Bengal as being historically associated with illegal sale and owner-
ship of this species (Moll 1983; Sekhar et al. 2004; Anand et al. 2004; WWF 1994)
(Figure 1). We noted that the cities of Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore), Chennai,
Delhi, Hyderabad, Kandla, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Pune, iruvananthapuram
and Vadodara are also all specically mentioned in this regard (e.g. WWF 1994).
We identied the thorn scrub forests located where the borders of the southern
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states meet as being historically associ-
ated with the sourcing of wild Indian Star Tortoises (WWF 1994) (Figure 1). We
Figure 1. Indian states with documented illegal Indian Star Tortoise trade activity (provided in the
existing scientic literature) and the current known geographic distribution of this species within India.
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 5
noted that the Saurashtra and Kutch regions of Gujarat are also specically cited
in this regard. We veried this information via concurrent communication with
a number of herpetologists and wildlife enforcement ocials aware of this issue.
Given our specic research objectives (outlined above), we identied the southern
state of Andhra Pradesh and the western State of Gujarat as the two sites for our
eld research.
In Gujarat we focussed our eorts on 16 rural villages and two urban towns sur-
rounding the city of Ahmedabad (referred to hereafter as the ‘Gujarat trade hub’) (Fig-
ure 2). In Andhra Pradesh we focused for US spelling consistency our eorts on eight
rural villages around the urban town of Madanapalle, which is located approximately
150 km away from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, in the state of Karnataka
(referred to hereafter as the Andhra Pradesh trade hub) (Figure 2). Between August
2013 and December 2014, we deployed a total of 5 researchers to gather eld data. We
elicited information, (including footage and stills) from collectors, couriers, consumers
and shop retailers regarding source locations (both wild and captive-bred) and intend-
ed destinations (both domestic and international). Where possible, researchers docu-
mented information regarding the volume and welfare state of the animals involved.
Figure 2. e current domestic and international illegal export trade routes for the Indian Star Tortoise,
involving various transport methods (according to this study’s eldwork).
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
Legal trade
Regulated trade mechanisms can also act as a ‘cover’ for and facilitate the illegal trade
in wild animals (e.g. via false paper work) (TRAFFIC et al. 2008, Dutton et al. 2013).
Given existing concerns that ‘legal loopholes’ are being exploited to sell illegally
sourced animals in ailand (Nijman and Shepherd 2015) we also obtained data from
the CITES WCMC ( to check for any inconsistencies. is da-
tabase reports all records of import and export of CITES listed species as reported by
Parties. Historically there has been some debate amongst taxonomists as to whether
this species should be divided into several subspecies or even multiple species (Fife
2007). However, for consistency we included all records referring to ‘Geochelone el-
egans. We focus on the live records only, during the period 2004–2013 inclusive, with
a specic focus on the numbers reported by both India and ailand.
Illegal Trade
e Gujarat Trade Hub
With regards to vendors, researchers did not observe any Indian Star Tortoises on open
display in this trade hub. However, we found individuals available for purchase upon spe-
cic request at the popular ‘Dilli Chakla’ market in Ahmedabad with seven Indian Star
Tortoises (six juveniles and one adult, all in visibly poor health) privately shown to re-
searchers by two vendors during two visits over this period (Figure 2 and Figure 3). Prices
ranged from 1,000 to 3,000 Indian rupees (INR) (15 and 50 USD) per animal (Figure
3). Vendors informed researchers that animals sold in Gujarat are typically sourced via
contacts based in Bangalore (Figure 2) and are in ready stock in quantities that vary from
one to 10. However, larger quantities, if needed, can be supplied with advance payment.
ey also conrmed that local communities in rural villages surrounding Ahmedabad
are also utilised to source wild tortoises from the wild (Figure 2 and Figure 3). e ven-
dors typically operated behind a legitimate facade of dealing in aquariums, exotic birds,
and domesticated mammals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs.
With regards to domestic consumers, despite their legal protection, Indian Star
Tortoises are still being openly kept as pets in Gujarat (Figure 4). We observed a total
of 107 animals in 17 Hindu households and temples during 36 visits. Owners con-
rm previous reports (e.g. WWF 1994) that the presence of a tortoise in a household
is considered to be a good omen in this particular region of the country. Researchers
observed over 100 hatchlings in one urban household on the outskirts of Ahmedabad
alone. e owner informed researchers that she was holding these individuals in order
to safeguard and prevent their predation prior to subsequent release back into the wild.
She was clear to state that, although some were intended for close friends and relatives,
none of these animals were intended for commercial sale.
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 7
In addition, Indian Star Tortoises are still being openly kept at religious tem-
ples for spiritual purposes (Figure 4). We observed a total of 22 animals at three
different Shiva temples (with a maximum of 11 individuals observed at one tem-
ple) throughout the survey period. We were not permitted access into three ad-
ditional temples that were reported to house Indian Star Tortoises. Temple rep-
resentatives confirmed that the tortoise is believed to represent an incarnation of
the Hindu God “Vishnu” and as such temple animals are decorated with vermil-
lion marks to symbolize this venerated deity (Figure 4). Animals were reportedly
sourced directly from the wild rather than purchased via vendors. Although we
were unable to document direct evidence of either the medicinal or subsistence use
of Indian Star Tortoises as a source of protein, collectors stated that this activity
does still take place.
Previous reports (e.g. WWF 1994) specically refer to Gujarat as a major organ-
ised source of Indian Star Tortoises intended for illegal shipment to the Middle East.
However, we found no evidence of any organized illegal transport of Indian Star
Tortoises originating from the Gujarat Trade Hub. is is surprising, especially given
Gujarat’s 1,600 km long coastline, the regular movement of boats to neighbouring
Gulf countries, its relatively good transport links (both road and rail) with other large
cities in neighbouring states, and the openly observed domestic trade in this species.
However, given the relatively short time period of our eldwork in this geographi-
cal area (conducted between August 2013 and January 2014), we acknowledge that
further investigation is needed to possibly conrm the absence of illegal transport
outside from Gujarat.
Figure 3. Indian Star Tortoise ‘chain of custody’ demonstrating the various illegal trade actors and reported
market value of individual animals involved in illicit trade activity originating from within India. Tortoise val-
ue refers to the maximum observed price (in US dollars) paid to the traders operating at each respective level.
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
e Andhra Pradesh Trade Hub
Unlike Gujarat, in Andhra Pradesh we encountered an organized, large-scale operation
engaged in the illegal sourcing of wild Indian Star Tortoises for international consumers
(Figure 2, Figure 3). Between January and December 2014 we embedded researchers
into a rural hunter-gatherer community known as ‘Haki Piki’ in Karnataka, ‘Yenadi’ in
Andhra Pradesh and ‘Irula’ in Tamil Nadu. During this time we observed the collection
of at least 55,500 juvenile wild tortoises (a total of 27 consignments, with an average
of two per month; Figure 5) by individuals operating from one rural village centre
that was collecting tortoises from 15 smaller settlements located along the borders of
Figure 4. A An Indian Star Tortoise at a religious temple near Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India B A shopkeep-
er with a pet Indian Star Tortoise near Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India C Indian Star Tortoises kept as pets in
a household near Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India D An Indian Star Tortoise marked with spiritual ‘puja’ paint.
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 9
Figure 5. e number of Indian Star Tortoises extracted from one hub ‘Madanapalli’ in Andhra Pradesh
(India) throughout 2014, as observed by this study’s eld research.
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (Figure 2, Figure 6). ese secondary level
rural traders typically utilize forest dwelling communities like members of the ‘Girlol’
forest tribal community to collect juvenile tortoises (Figure 3). Collection is predomi-
nantly seasonal, taking place after the local monsoon seasons (March and April; and
September, October and November) when tortoises tend to emerge out of hiding to
feed on fresh sprouting vegetation (Figure 5). Primary collectors tend to pick up speci-
mens that are year-old or older, but collection of sub-adults and adults also takes place.
Between 100 and 150 juvenile tortoises are typically gathered at one time over a
period of approximately one week with primary collectors receiving between 50 and
300 Indian Rupees (INR) (1 and 5 USD) per animal from secondary level urban (‘mid-
dle men’) traders depending on the size and health of the animal (Figure 3). erefore,
we conservatively estimate (assuming no mortalities) that the collector engagement in
this illegal operation has a collective annual value of up to 16,500,000 INR (263,000
USD) for their impoverished communities. Collectors conrmed they are also often
used as couriers to transport these animals to the tertiary level (‘main’) traders (Figure
3). Animals are often wrapped in cloth and packed into suitcases. However, to avoid
detection by enforcement agencies, some are also placed into boxes lled with a top
layer ‘mask’ of other legal produce such as fruit, vegetables, crustaceans and sh.
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
According to collectors, these tortoises are transported within India to several
main traders either by road or by rail (Figure 3, Figure 7). Specically with regards to
this particular trade hub, reference was made to illegal transport along the national
highway on the eastern coast of the country joining Chennai (in Tamil Nadu) with
Kolkata (in West Bengal) (Figure 7). In addition collectors also made reference to a
railway route linking Anantapur and Chittoor (in Andhra Pradesh) to Guwahati (in
Assam) via Kolkata (Figure 7). At this stage of the trade chain the main illegal traders
are reported to pay between 800 and 1000 INR (12 and 16 USD) per animal (Figure
3). erefore, we conservatively estimate (assuming no mortalities) that engagement
in this operation has an annual value of up to 55,000,000 INR (880,000 USD) for
the middlemen involved.
Figure 6. A: Rural Girlol community collector with wildlife snares; B, C and D; Rural community
traders with illegally sourced Indian Star Tortoises (destined for international markets) near Madanapalle,
Andhra Pradesh, India.
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 11
e direct involvement of collectors ends at this point. However, communication with
ai enforcement ocials conrmed that cargo boats in Kolkata are used to transport tor-
toises to other Asian countries including Malaysia, Singapore and ailand (Figure 7). Inter-
national passengers also act as couriers taking ights direct from Bengaluru, Chennai, Kol-
kata and Mumbai (India) or indirect via Dhaka (Bangladesh) into ailand’s Suvarnabhumi
International Airport (Anon. Pers. Comm., 2014) (Figure 3 and Figure 7). Alternatively,
porous borders are utilised to transport tortoises into Bangladesh (e.g. Dhaka) for further
air transport into ailand (Figure 7). From here, tortoises are also own on to additional
destinations within Southeast Asia including China (predominantly Hong Kong) (Anon.
Pers. Comm., 2014) (Figure 7). roughout our study we found no evidence to suggest
that Indian Star Tortoises are being tracked via Indian from either Sri Lanka or Pakistan.
Legal Trade
Global – CITES Records
Excluding seizure records, CITES reports a total of 211 separate Indian Star Tortoise trade
records between 2004 and 2013 (Suppl. material 1). In total, we observed 37,896 individ-
ual Indian Star Tortoises reported by export countries during this time. However, during
the same time period we also observed a total of 41,014 individual Indian Star Tortoises
reported by import countries (representing a discrepancy of 3,118 tortoises). We found
that only eleven (5%) of these 211 separate trade transactions have involved wild sourced
animals and 198 (94%) of these records have been for commercial use.
India – CITES Records
After analysing the CITES records, we observed no live Indian Star Tortoises (or body
parts) exports from India between 2004 and 2013 (Suppl. material 1). During the
same time period we found only one import record reported by India (Suppl. material
1). is record relates to 601 wild sourced tortoises that were repatriated following an
enforcement seizure made in Malaysia in 2011. ese records indicate no legal trade in
this species originating from India over the last 10 years.
ailand – CITES Records
After analysing the CITES records, we observed a total of 2,650 live tortoises im-
ported into ailand, via seven trade transactions, between 2004 and 2008 (Figure
8; Suppl. material 1). However, we found only 1,100 live individuals reported by
exporting countries into ailand over the same time period (representing a discrep-
ancy of 1,550 tortoises) (Figure 8; Suppl. material 1). We found all of the live imports
reported as being sourced via captive breeding programmes for commercial purposes
(Suppl. material 1).
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
We observed that the majority of import trade transactions into ailand (43%;
n =3) came from Lebanon, although imports also came from Jordan (19%) and Japan
(19) (Figure 7). We found that Kazakhstan reported to be the country of origin in all
records including such data (57%) (Suppl. material 1). Between 2009 and 2013 only
one tortoise was imported into ailand from Singapore, for personal use, from an
unknown source (Figure 7; Suppl. material 1).
Between 2004 and 2008 we observed a total of 540 live tortoises exported from
ailand, via ten trade transactions (Figure 9; and Suppl. material 1). However, we
found an additional 960 live individuals reported by importing countries from ai-
land over the same time period (representing a discrepancy of 420 tortoises) (Figure 9;
and Suppl. material 1). We found all of the live exports reported as being sourced via
captive breeding programmes (Suppl. material 1).
We observed that the majority of export trade transactions went to Hong Kong
(30%; n = 3) and Japan (30%), although exports also went to Taiwan (20%) and Bang-
ladesh (20%) (Figure 7; and Suppl. material 1). We found Kazakhstan to be most fre-
quently cited as the country of origin (70%) although Lebanon (20%) and Kyrgyzstan
(10%) are also cited with Indian Star Tortoises passing through ailand for an inde-
nite period of time (Suppl. material 1). Between 2009 and 2013 we found only three
Indian Star Tortoises exported from ailand to Japan for commercial use from a cap-
tive bred source (Figure 7; Figure 9 and Suppl. material 1).
Figure 7. Map to show legal international trade routes for Indian Star Tortoises imported into and ex-
ported out from ailand between 2004 and 2013 (according to CITES WCMC trade database records).
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 13
Figure 8. e number of Indian Star Tortoises legally imported into ailand between 2004 and 2013
according to CITES WCMC trade database records. ‘ai imports’ refers to import records reported by
ailand. ‘Global exports’ refers to export records reported by all other CITES Parties citing ailand as
the intended country of import.
Figure 9. e number of Indian Star Tortoises legally exported out of ailand between 2004 and 2013
according to CITES WCMC trade database records. ‘ai exports’ refers to export records reported by
ailand. ‘Global imports’ refers to import records reported by all other CITES Parties citing ailand as
the country of export.
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
Conservation and Welfare
e Indian Star Tortoise was last formally assessed for the IUCN Red List fteen years
ago when it was classied as Lower Risk/Least Concern. However, its conservation
status is already acknowledged to be in urgent need of updating (Asian Turtle Trade
Working Group 2000) and preliminary assessments suggest that a reclassication as
‘Vulnerable’ may be more appropriate (Horne et al 2012). More detailed eld studies
regarding the impacts of illegal extraction on wild Indian Star Tortoise populations
over time are no doubt required to fully inform this assessment process. However, in
cases where there are evident threats to the survival of a species, a threatened listing
may be justied even though there may be little direct information on its biological
status (IUCN 2015).
We report on the illegal wild removal of at least 55,000 Indian Star Tortoises from
just one trade hub in India over a period of one year. is Figure is (three to six
times) larger than the 10,000–20,000 individuals previously estimated to be poached
throughout the entire range of this species each year (Sekhar et al. 2004). erefore,
despite the current wide distribution of the Indian Star Tortoise, it may be wise to
adopt a more precautionary approach to the conservation of this species by providing
it with a threatened category status until such detailed information becomes available.
is illegal trade also represents an on-going animal welfare threat (Sekhar et al.
2004, Anand et al. 2005). Physical injury and stress associated with illegal capture, han-
dling and overcrowding can lead to disease and death of traded animals (Warwick 1990;
Baker et al. 2013). However, new research also continues to demonstrate that the stress
associated with captive conditions during private ownership can also cause detrimental
behavioural changes, such as hyperactivity, lethargy and anorexia (e.g. Arena et al. 2012).
Previous studies have raised concerns that Indian Star Tortoises are being smug-
gled from India into pet markets in Asia, Europe and the United States (e.g. Horne
et al. 2012) Although more detailed information is required regarding the consumers
involved in this illegal trade chain, our study suggests that many of the Indian Star
Tortoises being illegally traded from the Andhra Pradesh trade hub in India appear to
be destined for use as exotic pets in Asian countries, such as ailand and China. As
such there are concerns that even if these animals survive capture and illegal transport
their welfare may still be compromised as it is currently unclear whether vendors and
consumers in these countries possess even a basic understanding of Indian Star Tortoise
husbandry requirements (Sekhar et al. 2004, Anand et al. 2005).
An Organized Criminal Network
Ownership of Indian Star Tortoises is likely to have been a long held cultural practice
in India (WWF 1994). However, the international commercial trade in this species
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 15
appears to be a relatively new and rapidly increasing phenomenon. During an initial
survey, Moll (1983) found no evidence of Indian Star Tortoise trade at any of the
wildlife markets visited throughout the country and it was not until the mid-1990’s
(WWF 1994) that initial conservation concerns regarding this illegal activity were
rst raised. In Gujarat, our ndings conrm those of Sekhar et al. (2004) who de-
scribed an “erratic localised enterprise”. Although, commercial trade is clearly taking
place, we found no evidence of organised international criminal involvement at this
particular trade hub.
Unfortunately, our ndings did conrm that the commercial trade in this spe-
cies has evolved into an international organised criminal operation in other parts
of the country (e.g. the Andhra Pradesh trade hub). is type of illegal activity
involves a wide range of actors ranging from the rural poor to wealthy urban en-
trepreneurs (TRAFFIC 2008). It appears that ‘middlemen’ have built upon the
methods to disguise consignments that were rst documented more than 10 years
ago (Sekhar et al. 2004) to smuggle tortoises internationally via road, rail, air and
sea. Even when liberal mortality rates are taken into account, this represents a lucra-
tive business venture worth hundreds of thousands of USD each year to the main
criminal actors involved.
Legal Loopholes
Our analysis of CITES records also raises some concerns regarding the current legal
trade in this species. We found large discrepancies between imports and exports relat-
ing to ailand that are widely recognized indicators of illegal activity. Historically,
Kazakhstan is reported to have been the main supplier into ailand despite the fact
that it is not a range country for this species and a complete lack of import records
for any captive breeding stock (Suppl. material 1). e signicant involvement of
Lebanon (a non-CITES Party until 2013) also calls the legitimacy of ailand’s
founding stock into question. Previous calls for CITES Management Authorities
to investigate this particular trade route (e.g. Nijman and Shepherd 2010) may be
partly responsible for the observed lack of Indian Star Tortoise imports into ailand
over the last ve years.
Indias Wildlife Protection Act prohibits both trade and private ownership of
this species. However, legal domestic trade in other Asian countries appears to be
undermining Indias eorts to protect this species (Nijman and Shepherd 2015).
Specically, now that the illegal laundering of wild caught animals via legal pathways
is subject to increased scrutiny, it appears that illegal reptile traders are increasingly
using other more clandestine methods to smuggle these animals into ailand and
on to other target consumer countries, such as China. Once they enter countries
that permit legal trade in this species, it is very dicult for the relevant enforcement
agencies to distinguish between wild caught and captive bred animals (Nijman and
Shepherd 2010).
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
Consumer demand
With regards to consumers, our study reveals that within India some demand un-
doubtedly persists for subsistence purposes among members of the rural poor (i.e. as a
source of protein). However, on wider assessment, wealth also appears to be an equally
strong (if not stronger) driver as domestic demand also extends to ‘luxury’ use as exotic
pets and spiritual purposes. Similarly, although more research is required, international
demand for this species throughout South East Asia (particularly ailand and China)
also appears to be driven by demand for use as exotic pets stimulated by increasing af-
uence across this region (Nijman and Shepherd 2015).
Given the scale of the illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises uncovered during our study,
we recommend that more detailed research should be carried out in order to establish
the impact that this unregulated activity is having on wild populations. is informa-
tion will be required in order to make a fully informed updated formal assessment
of the IUCN Red List status of this species. However, while this information is be-
ing collected, we suggest that assessors use existing information to inform whether a
precautionary approach to the listing of the Indian Star Tortoise is required to help
safeguard its survival.
Working together, national enforcement agencies can detect and disrupt the traf-
cking of wildlife by organised criminal groups, for example by documenting illegal
business activities and identifying laws that have been broken in each other’s jurisdic-
tions (TRAFFIC 2008). Given the relatively recent development of a highly organised
international criminal trade network (involving India, ailand and other Asian coun-
tries such as China) we recommend increased cooperation between relevant national
enforcement bodies in collaboration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN).
e legal trade in other Asian countries also appears to be undermining Indias ef-
forts to protect the Indian Star Tortoise. As such, we support existing calls (e.g. Nijman
and Shepherd 2015) for these ‘sink’ countries to implement corresponding national bans
regarding the commercial trade in this species. In particular, given its concerning current
role as a country of transit, extending WARPA to protect non-indigenous species could
help to aid ailand’s existing enforcement eorts to address this illegal trade activity.
It is important to note, wildlife laws and enforcement eorts stand little chance
of success unless consumer demand for protected wildlife is also addressed (TRAF-
FIC 2008). Consequently, we recommend that further studies should be carried out
to acquire a more detailed understanding of the attitudes and behaviours of Indian
Star Tortoise consumers. is information will help to inform existing and any future
human behaviour change initiatives focussed on reducing consumer demand for this
protected species.
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 17
Evidence suggests that a multifaceted approach can be successful in reducing il-
legal trade in Indian Star Tortoises. For example, a recent market survey has indicated
a dramatic drop in the number of Indian Star Tortoises in Malaysian shops over the
last 10 years as a direct result of new wildlife legislation, increased enforcement eort
and targeted public awareness initiatives (Chng and Bouhuys 2015). As such this type
of approach has the potential to yield similar results in other countries of Indian Star
Tortoise trade concern such as ailand.
We thank BC Choudhary, Margaret Balaskas, Kate Nustedt, Simon Pope, Gajender Shar-
ma, Emily Reeves, Lyndall Stein, and Peter Paul van Dijk for their invaluable comments
and insights during this research project. Many thanks to the Investigation and Intelligence
Team at World Animal Protection, and anonymous contributors, who provided conden-
tial information in support of this research. Special thanks go to Steve McIvor for support-
ing this project. is research project was fully funded by World Animal Protection.
Anand VD, Moses A, Varma S (2005) e Fading Star – An investigation into the illegal trade
in Indian Star Tortoise in south India. A Rocha India, Bangalore, and Wildlife Trust of
India, New Delhi, 1–26.
Arena PC, Warwick C, Steedman C (2014) Welfare and environmental implications of farmed
sea turtles. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 27: 309–330.
Asian Turtle Trade Working Group (2000) Geochelone elegans. e IUCN Red List of reat-
ened Species.
Baker S, Cain R, Kesteren F, Zommers Z, D’Cruze N, Macdonald D (2013) Rough trade:
animal welfare in the global wildlife trade. BioScience 63: 28–938.
Bangkok Post (2014) First animal welfare law passed.
Bush ER, Baker SE, Macdonald DW (2014) Global trade in exotic pets 2006–2012. Conserva-
tion Biology 28: 663–676.
Chng SCL (2014) Seizures of tortoises and freshwater turtles in ailand 2008–2013. TRAF-
FIC, Petaling Jaya, 1–24.
Chng SCL, Bouhuys J (2015) Indian Star Tortoises: Shop sales fall as internet trade increases.
TRAFFIC Bulletin 27: 73–78.
CITES (2015) Convention text.
Das I (1991) Colour guide to the turtles and tortoises of the Indian subcontinent. R&A Pub-
lishing Ltd., Portishead, 133 pp.
Das I (2002) A photographic guide to snakes and other reptiles of India. New Holland Publish-
ers, London, 144 pp.
Neil D’Cruze et al. / Nature Conservation 13: 1–19 (2015)
Dutton AJ, Gratwicke B, Hepburn C, Herrera EA, Wunder S (2013) Tackling unsustainable
wildlife trade. In: Macdonald DW, Willis KJ (Eds) Key topics in conservation biology.
Wiley-Blackwell, 74–92.
Fyfe JD (2007) Star tortoises: e natural history, captive care and breeding. Turtles of the
world series, Number 10. Jerry D. Fyfe and Living Art Publishing, 116 pp.
Horne BD, Poole CM, Walde AD (2012) Conservation of Asian tortoises and freshwater tur-
tles: Setting priorities for the next ten years. Recommendations and conclusions from the
workshop in Singapore, February 21–24, 2011.
INTERPOL (2010) Co-ordinated operation targeting illegal trade in endangered reptiles leads
to arrests and seizures worldwide.
IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (2010) Implementation of Deci-
sion 14.128: A study of progress on conservation of and trade in CITES-listed tortoises
and freshwater turtles in Asia. SC61 Doc. 47 (Rev. 2) Annex 2.
Lawson K, Vines A (2014) Global Impact of the Illegal Wildlife Trade – e Costs of Crime,
Insecurity and Institutional Erosion. Chatham House, London, 62 pp.
Moll EO (1983) Turtle survey update (January to April 1983). Hamadryad 8: 15–17.
Nijman V, Shepherd CR (2010) e role of Asia in the global trade in CITES II-listed poison
arrow frogs: hopping from Kazakhstan to Lebanon to ailand and beyond. Biodiversity
and Conservation 19: 1963–1970.
Nijman V, Shepherd CR, Mumpuni, Saunders KL (2012) Over-exploitation and illegal trade
of reptiles in Indonesia. Herpetological Journal 22: 83–89.
Nijman V, Shepherd CR (2015) Analysis of a decade of trade of tortoises and freshwater turtles
in Bangkok, ailand. Biological Conservation 24: 309–318.
Robinson JE, Griths RA, John FAVS, Roberts DL (2015) Dynamics of the global trade in
live reptiles: Shifting trends in production and consequences for sustainability. Biological
Conservation 184: 42–50.
Shepherd CR, Burgess EA, Loo M (2004) Demand driven: e trade of Indian Star Tortoises
Geochelone elegans in Peninsular Malaysia. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, 1–18.
Sekhar AC, Gurunathan N, Anandhan G (2004) Star tortoise: A victim of the exotic pet trade.
Tigerpaper 31: 4–6.
TRAFFIC (2008) What’s driving the wildlife trade? A review of expert opinion on economic
and social drivers of the wildlife trade and trade control eorts in Cambodia, Indonesia,
Lao PDR and Vietnam. East Asia and Pacic region sustainable development discussion
papers. East Asia and Pacic Region Sustainable Development Department, World Bank,
Washington, 1–133.
TRAFFIC (2013) Overview of important international seizures of CITES-listed specimens in
the European Union – January to December 2012. TRAFFIC brieng for the European
Commission. TRAFFIC, Cambridge, 1–8.
UNEP-WCMC (2011) Checklist of CITES species (CD-ROM). CITES Secretariat, Geneva,
and UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, 114–115.
UNEP-WCMC (2014) CITES source codes: Review of CITES Annual Report data for speci-
mens recorded using source codes C, D, F and R. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, 23–25.
A star attraction: e illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises 19
van Dijk PP, Palasuwan T (2000) Conservation status, trade, and management of tortoises and
freshwater turtles in ailand. In: van Dijk PP, Stuart BL, Rhodin AGJ (Eds) Proceedings
of a workshop on conservation and trade of freshwater turtles and tortoises in Asia, Chelo-
nian. Research Monographs 2, Phnom Penh, 137–144.
Warwick C (1990) Reptilian ethology in captivity: observations of some problems and an eval-
uation of their aetiology. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 26: 1–13.
WWF (1994) Turtle trade in India: A study of tortoises and freshwater turtles. WWF, New
Delhi, 1–50.
Supplementary material 1
Table S1. Table of the Indian Star Tortoise trade transactions (1975–2013)
Authors: Neil D’Cruze, Bhagat Singh, omas Morrison, Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Da-
vid W. Macdonald, Aniruddha Mookerjee
Data type: trade transactions data
Explanation note: Table to show the Indian Star Tortoise trade transactions (1975-
2013) as recorded by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Spe-
cies of Wild Fauna and Flora World Conservation Monitoring Centre (CITES
WCMC) database (
Copyright notice: is dataset is made available under the Open Database License
( e Open Database License
(ODbL) is a license agreement intended to allow users to freely share, modify, and
use this Dataset while maintaining this same freedom for others, provided that the
original source and author(s) are credited.
... According to Nijman et al. study the reptiles and their relative derivatives/products can make up a significant portion of the illegal wild-life trade in the market. Similarly, Robinson et al.have been reported that the global reptile trades movement was found to be unlawfully wild-caught to lawful captive-bred sources [5]. According to INTERPO /Lreports the global reptile enforcement operation (also known as RAMP) work to capture thousands of live reptiles and their items worth >28$ million [6].Approximately 10% of the 799 foreign seizurereptiles records have been submitted by Member state of the European Union in 2012 Da Traffic, 2013With the time, consumers have increase demand for reptiles use as food, curios, ceremonies, and pets thus a severe threat for In 1994, India has been decided to enact more rigorous domestic regulations than CITES in order to protect its natural populations [11]. ...
... With upfront payment, higher quantities can be provided, if necessary. They further confirmed that wild tortoises are also sourced from the wild by using local residents in remote regions near Ahmedabad [5]. Despite being legally protected, Indian Star Tortoises are still freely maintained as pets in Gujarat by local consumers (Figure 4). ...
... We did not discover any proof, nevertheless, of any planned or illegal shipment of Indian Star Tortoises coming from the Gujarat Trade Hub. This is particularly surprising considering Gujarat's 1,600 km of shoreline, the frequent movement of boats to adjacent Gulf nations, its reasonably good transportation connections (both road and rail) with the other major cities in surrounding states, and the publicly identified trading in this species [5]. The maximum observable cost (in US dollars) usually paid to the dealers active at each considerable scale is referred to as the "tortoise value." ...
Indian star tortoises i.e. especially Geochelone elegans (GE) are the issue of an illegal worldwide cascade including India. In India, GE has been confined under the wildlife (protection) act 1972's with a schedule-IV list for ~40 years. This species has also been privileged by the CITES (Convention on International Traffic in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) agreement, which governs all commercial trades since 1975. We were also demanded to investigate the effects of prohibited deals on wild populations like GE. However, the revised judgment of the species' protection grade, better coordination between governmental enforcement, and implementation of objects planned to modify people's behavior in order to help consumers' needs. Therefore, these demands are made in concern of preservation and animal welfare issues.
... The species is largely herbivorous; nevertheless, they are also known to scavenge on animal matter and play an important role in ecosystems [2]. In the recent past, G. elegans confronts habitat loss, anthropogenic threats, and severe menaces due to illegal hunting, with approximately one hundred thousand individuals traded every year [3,4]. Hence, the species is enlisted to CITES 'Appendix I' in 2019 to prohibit all international trade and safeguard them in the wild. ...
... Further, to mitigate the existing anthropogenic threats to G. elegans, it is also important to have species-specific knowledge about their habits and habitats as well as their trade routes. Previous studies have suggested that areas near Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, and Chennai are illegal trading hubs for Indian star tortoises [3]. While integrating the present SDM results with the findings of D'Cruze et al., (2015), we suspect multiple wildlife trade hubs are overlapped within the suitable range ( Figure 6). ...
Full-text available
The Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is a massively traded animal in South Asia. To mitigate this risk, the conservation agencies recommended guidelines to safeguard this charismatic species in nature. We adopted mitochondrial DNA-based investigation and performed species distribution modeling of G. elegans throughout its distribution range in the Indian subcontinent. The genetic analyses revealed weak genetic landscape shape interpolations, low intraspecific distances (0% to 1.5%) with mixed haplotype diversity, and a single molecular operational taxonomic unit (MOTU) in the cytochrome b gene dataset. The star tortoise, G. elegans, and its sister species Geochelone platynota showed a monophyletic clustering in the Bayesian (BA) phylogeny. We also attempt to understand the habitat suitability and quality of G. elegans in its distribution range. Our results suggest that, out of the extant area, only 56,495 km2 (9.90%) is suitable for this species, with regions of highest suitability in Sri Lanka. Comparative habitat quality estimation suggests the patch shape complexity and habitat fragmentation are greater in the western and southern ranges of India, which have been greatly influenced by an increased level of urbanization and agriculture practices. We have also provided a retrospect on the potential threat to G. elegans related to the wildlife trade on the regional and international spectrum. Our results detected multiple trading hubs and junctions overlying within the suitable ranges which need special attention in the vicinity. The present study calls for a proper conservation strategy to combat the fragmented distribution and explicitly recommends intensive genetic screening of founder individuals or isolated adult colonies, implementing scientific breeding, and subsequent wild release to restore the lost genetic diversity of star tortoises.
... The clandestine nature of trafficking makes finding access points into the commodity chain challenging. According to D'Cruze et al. [75], the durability and survivability of species relates to mortality and morbidity, and this dictates the methods used by smugglers in the trade. Consequently, the ability to provide for wildlife welfare on the part of people transporting or smuggling wildlife dictates how and when they poach, smuggle, and sell that wildlife. ...
... Consequently, the ability to provide for wildlife welfare on the part of people transporting or smuggling wildlife dictates how and when they poach, smuggle, and sell that wildlife. D'Cruze et al. [75] provide two examples, the Indian Star tortoise and exotic birds to highlight how welfare influences the smuggling methods employed by criminals, and how each requires a different enforcement response. ...
Full-text available
Wildlife trade—both legal and illegal—is an activity that is currently the focus of global attention. Concerns over the loss of biodiversity, partly stemming from overexploitation, and the corona virus pandemic, likely originating from wildlife trade, are urgent matters. These concerns though centre on people. Only sometimes does the discussion focus on the wildlife traded and their welfare. In this article, we make the case as to why welfare is an important component of any discussion or policy about wildlife trade, not only for the interests of the wildlife, but also for the sake of humans. We detail the harm in the trade as well as the current welfare provisions, particularly in relation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which guide global transport and trade. There are a number of ways that the current approach to wildlife welfare could be improved, and we propose ways forward in this regard.
... The global trade of reptiles is complex, with many stakeholders and challenges, and as such, a limited number of examples are presented in this chapter. The commercial trade has been documented as one of the sources of population decline for many reptile species (O'Brien et al. 2003;Natusch 2011, 2013;D'Cruze et al. 2015;Parusnath et al. 2017). This chapter covers the trade of live reptiles as pets, as well as the trade of reptiles or their parts for use in traditional medicine, for their skins, or for human consumption. ...
... Population declines as a result of overharvesting have been widely documented (Gibbons et al. 2000;O'Brien et al. 2003;Shepherd and Ibarrondo 2005;Todd et al. 2010;Clark et al. 2011;Lyons and Natusch 2011;Parusnath et al. 2017). This is particularly true for turtles and tortoises, for which the impact of unsustainable use has been highlighted by many (Van Dijk and Palasuwan 2000; Haitao et al. 2007;Nijman and Shepherd 2014;D'Cruze et al. 2015;Morgan 2018). Many of these species are used as a local food source (Klemens and Thorbjarnarson 1995;Blasco et al. 2011), sold as pets (O'Brien et al. 2003;Morgan 2018), or used in traditional medicine (Chen et al. 2009). ...
Reptiles are among the most intensively harvested and traded species groups globally. The global trade of reptiles includes the trade of live reptiles as pets, as well as the trade of reptiles or their parts for use in traditional medicine, for reptile skins, or for human consumption. Reptiles have been widely used to treat a large variety of ailments, and medicinal use has been documented for at least 284 species. Reptiles are also an important food source, with the heaviest exploitation for this purpose in tropical and subtropical regions. In addition to the consumption of reptile meat for nutritional value, it is often intertwined with cultural beliefs, or consumed for medicinal purposes. The international trade of reptile skins is the largest trade in volume for all uses of reptile species and included 75 species from 2000 to 2017. However, the trade in live reptiles impacts significantly more species, with international trade documented for at least 642 taxa. Available data on the reptile trade may be unreliable due to frequently occurring discrepancies and a general lack of data on the volume and included species. Additionally, the reptile trade increases the risk of disease transmission globally, as well as the introduction of invasive species. All these factors have resulted in population declines across the globe. However, approximately 80% of the world’s population also relies on the use of natural resources for traditional medicine, food, or additional income. In order to effectively reduce the negative impacts of trade on reptiles, it is vital to address the underlying drivers of the trade.
... The largest female from western Indian measured 50.5 cm CCL and 8.960 kg with an estimated age of 55 years (Vyas 2011). Many Hindu Gujaratis (= people of Gujarat State) worship reptiles (Vyas 2003), especially tortoises, as "Kurma Dev" (in Sanskrit, kurma = turtle or tortoise, dev = god) or living deities within temples (Vyas and Parasharya 2000;D'Cruze et al. 2015). In addition, some Gujaratis keep tortoises as pets. ...
... In this study, we tried to improve modeling results by including the non-natives range of species in modeling. However, case studies show that species whose trade is controlled are traded illegally to meet the demand in the international reptile trade (e.g., D'Cruze et al., 2015;Auliya et al., 2016). Compared to other forms of illegal trade such as arms and drug trade, law enforcement for the trade of animals is weak or lacking. ...
Full-text available
Trade of non-native reptiles is an important and increasing driver of biodiversity loss and often compromises the standards required for protection. However, the growing interest in non-native reptiles as pets has posed serious concerns to wildlife managers and conservationists. Instituting effective policies regarding non-native reptiles requires a thorough understanding of the potential range of species in new environments. In this study, we used an ensemble of ten species distribution models to predict the potential distribution for 23 of the most commonly traded species of reptiles across the Middle East. We used ten modeling techniques implemented in the Biomod2 package and ensemble forecasts. Final models used thirty environmental variables, including climatic, topographic, and land cover/land use variables. Our results indicate that all Middle Eastern countries included suitable habitats for at least six species, except Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, for which the models did not predict any suitable habitats. Our study showed that Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, and Israel face the highest risk of biological invasion based on the area of suitable habitats for all studied species. Also, the results showed that turtles posed the highest risk of spreading in in the Middle East. Information on which species pose a greater danger as invaders and the possible impacts of their introduction will be a valuable contribution to the development of conservation plans and policies.
... The victimised species generally found to be those native to neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. For example, birds like red-whiskered bulbuls are native to southern China and the Indian continent [31], while the Chinese hwamei is distributed widely across southern and central China, Taiwan, Hainan, and northern Indochina [32], and star tortoises are native to India and Burma [33,34]. All smuggled animals are brought via the Woodlands checkpoint in the North though cars [35,36], or via airplane through Changi airport [37], and even more rarely via sea, coming from the Changi coastlines in the east on a yacht [38]. ...
Full-text available
Introduction: Singapore is a first-world country, protected by an advanced police force, competent in investigating crime against human citizens. Little is known about crime against animals and what Singapore does in these instances. Methods: This research considered data from reports of various animal crime that occurred in 2016 as recorded by the three animal welfare organizations appointed to investigate crimes against animals (AVS, SPCA and ACRES). Details of the cases collected were sorted using eight parameters: date, location, perpetrator, victim, type of crime or complaint, case outcome, organization, and punishment. The type of crime or complaint were divided into the categories: abandoned, allowed to roam, barking animal, caged, poor conditions, sick and untreated, physically abused, poisoned, deceased, taken from the wild, illegal possession, illegal sale, smuggling, and licencing. Results: In 2016, a total of 831 cases committed by 839 perpetrators were reported, for a total of 2357 minimum number of animals involved, comprehensive of animal parts and items made from animals. The largest proportion of the cases occurred against domestic animals and in housing districts. Despite these high numbers, only perpetrators in 11 cases were charged with fines and/or imprisonment time. Conclusions: This research paints, for the first time, a picture of what animal crime looks in the Singaporean society. Results are of pivotal importance to identify criminal hot spots, most common type of crimes, and animal categories that are most often victimised, aiming to facilitate the work of the organizations involved in investigating animal-related crime in Singapore.
... Reptiles, especially turtles and tortoises, are increasingly popular in the pet trade (e.g., Vyas 2012Vyas , 2015D'Cruze et al. 2015;Mendiratta et al. 2017). Conversations with locals, who are involved in such activities, elicited responses to questions like: "Is the pet trade prevalent in the region?" ...
Technical Report
The report aims to provide a comprehensive overview of illegal wildlife trade in India for the year 2020. It is an assessment of data collected through publicly available online open-source newspaper articles. The report also hopes to highlight the role of effective enforcement agencies in successfully detecting a huge volume of illegal wildlife trade, as well as the role of media in reporting wildlife crime cases.
Full-text available
The illegal and unsustainable trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles in Asia is a clear impediment to their conservation, leading to steep population declines and what has become known as the Asian Turtle Crisis. We focus on the trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles for pets in one of Southeast Asia’s largest wildlife trading centres, the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand. Between November 2004 and December 2013 we surveyed Chatuchak 12 times, recording all species and quantities of tortoises and freshwater turtles openly for sale. In total, 2,667 individuals representing 55 species, were observed with 97 % of the individuals belonging to species not native to Thailand. African, South Asian and Southeast Asian species made up the largest numbers. The number of individuals recorded per survey ranged between 110 and 522 of between 11 and 24 species; species richness, species diversity and evenness did not show any clear temporal pattern. New species were added after new surveys suggesting a continual increasing supply of novel species. The most common species in trade over this period were Indian star tortoise Geochelone elegans (653 individuals), African spurred tortoise G. sulcata (536) and radiated tortoise Astrochelys radiata (320). Globally threatened species were observed during every survey, totalling 1,235 individuals of 20 species. These included Critically Endangered radiated tortoises and Burmese star tortoise G. platynota. Non-native CITES I listed species, i.e. species that should not be traded internationally, such as black spotted turtle Geoclemys hamiltonii from northeastern India and Bangladesh, were observed during all but one surveys, totalling 417 individuals of seven species. The observations of large numbers of species that had clearly entered the country illegally was clear evidence that unscrupulous traders are taking advantage of the loopholes in Thailand’s legislation. Legal reform in Thailand is urgently required, so that the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act can function as an effective piece of legislation to be used to bring an end to the illegal trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles in Thailand.
Full-text available
Various captivity-related health problems have been described as arising in the farming of sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF). Our study included a desktop review of turtle farming, direct onsite inspection at the CTF, assessment of visual materials and reports provided by investigators from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and a limited analysis of water quality for potential pathogens. In particular, we assessed physical and behavioural condition of animals for signs of stress, injury and disease. During the onsite inspection we identified three distinct signs of physical injury and disease, six distinct signs of abnormal and problematic arousal- and discomfort-related behaviour; and three distinct signs of normal quiescence- and comfort-related behaviour. On evaluation of evidence provided by the WSPA we identified ten distinct signs of physical injury and disease, and management- or genetic-related conditions; six distinct signs of abnormal and problematic arousal- and discomfort-related behaviour; and three distinct signs of normal quiescence- and comfort-related behaviour. We conclude that sea turtles at the CTF manifested important physical and behavioural signs that are indicative of problematic management and captivity-related stress, and the limitations of sea turtle adaptive plasticity in captivity. The problematic physical and behavioural signs, in our view, related to the inherent nature of intensive turtle propagation which in particular involves overt- and crypto-overcrowding and understimulating environments, and an associated failure to meet all the physical, biological and innate behavioural needs of sea turtles.
Full-text available
Wildlife trade is a big and burgeoning business, but its welfare impacts have not been studied comprehensively. We review the animal welfare impacts of the wildlife trade as they were reported in the literature between 2006 and 2011. Rarely was the term welfare mentioned, evidence of welfare impact documented, or welfare improvement recommended. Literature focused on mammals and on animals killed on site, for luxury goods or food, and for traditional medicine. Welfare impacts may be underreported, particularly in international, illegal, and wild-caught trade and trade in reptiles. Greater attention should perhaps be paid to the welfare of animals traded alive and in larger numbers (e.g., birds, reptiles, amphibians) and to those—including mammals—potentially subject to greater impacts through live use (e.g., as pets). More evidence-based research is needed. Animal welfare should be integrated with wider issues; collaboration between conservationists and welfarists and the development of health and welfare levers to influence trade offer benefits to both people and wildlife. Full text at:
International trade in exotic pets is an important and increasing driver of biodiversity loss and often compromises the standards required for good animal welfare. We systematically reviewed the scientific and gray literature and used the United Nations Environment Programme - World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) trade database to establish temporal and geographical trade patterns of live exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles and to describe trends in research, taxonomic representation, and level of threat and legal protection of species traded. Birds were the most species-rich and abundant class reported in trade; reptiles were second most abundant but unusually the most studied in this context; and mammals were least abundant in trade. Mammalian and reptilian species traded as pets were more likely to be threatened than expected by random. There have been a substantial number of Appendix I listed captive-bred mammals and birds and wild-caught birds and reptiles reported in trade to CITES. We identified the Middle East's emerging role as a driver of demand for exotic pets of all taxa alongside the well-established and increasing role of South America and Southeast Asia in the market. Europe, North America, and the Middle East featured most heavily in trade reports to CITES, whereas trade involving South America and Southeast Asia were given most emphasis in the literature. For effective monitoring of and appropriate response to the international exotic pet trade, it is imperative that the reliability and detail of CITES trade reports improve and that scientific research be directed toward those taxa and locations that are most vulnerable.
Evaluations were made of >4000 reptiles maintained in captive situations to assess numerous abnormal behaviours and any related environmental and other influences. Certain behavioural restrictions warrant concern because they result in physical injuries while others are primarily related to inhibited ethological expression; this paper concentrates on the latter. Hyperactivity, hypoactivity, persecution from other occupants, disposition-related environmental temperature preference, interaction with transparent boundaries and aggression are a few examples of abnormal behaviours resulting from concept- and design-deficient artificial environments, and all may be related to poor adaptability and environmentally induced trauma. It is probable that the adaptability of reptiles to unnatural environments is substantially compromised by the fundamental biological principle of their innate education system which results in greatly reduced susceptibility to other educative influences.The importance of a sound knowledge of a species natural life style (wherever possible prior to their acquisition) is to be emphasised if preventative action regarding abnormal behaviour and evaluations of current problems are to be thoroughly addressed. Very little work has been done on this subject probably because natural behaviours of reptiles may present observational difficulties and because “lower” vertebrates are often perceived as being highly adaptable to captivity and thus warrant low priority.