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For Immediate Release, August 15, 2011

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

International Trade Restrictions Sought to End Unsustainable Exploitation of
Wild Turtles across the Midwest, South

More than 12 Million Turtles Caught, Exported Over Past Five Years

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to end unsustainable international trade in U.S. freshwater turtles. Specifically, the Center seeks protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for 20 species of native midwestern and southern freshwater turtles, including the alligator snapping turtle, map turtles, softshell turtles, the spotted turtle, Blanding’s turtle and the diamondback terrapin.

“Turtle traders in the United States are catching and exporting millions of wild-caught freshwater turtles each year,” said Collette Adkins Giese, the Center’s herpetofauna staff attorney. “That kind of unsustainable harvest is rapidly depleting native turtle populations that are already suffering from other threats like habitat loss, water pollution and road mortality.”

More than 12 million wild-caught live turtles have been exported from the United States in the past five years. Most are used to supply food and medicinal markets in Asia, where turtle consumption rates have soared and where native populations of turtles have already been decimated. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.

Overharvest has caused population declines in almost all turtle species that are now endangered or rare. For example, the beautiful ringed map turtle — now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — suffered sharp declines because of overcollection for the pet trade. And the alligator snapping turtle, which can reach 250 pounds and is the largest freshwater turtle in the United States, has been intensively exploited for its meat.

“The United States needs to act now to save our freshwater turtles,” said Adkins Giese. “International protection from exploitation is vital for the survival of wild freshwater turtle populations in the country.”

The Center’s petition asks that the alligator snapping turtle, 13 species of map turtles, three species of softshell turtles, the spotted turtle, Blanding’s turtle, and the diamondback terrapin be listed in CITES Appendix II. Trade for species on this list is regulated using a permit system, with permits issued only when trade has been determined to be nondetrimental to the survival of a species. CITES-listed species are also subject to mandatory reporting requirements.

The United States is a turtle biodiversity hotspot, home to more types of turtles than any other country in the world. As part of the Center’s campaign to protect this rich natural heritage, the group petitioned states with unrestricted commercial turtle harvest to improve harvest regulations. Florida responded by banning almost all commercial harvest of freshwater turtles from public and private waters. The Center has also petitioned to list several species of imperiled freshwater turtles under the Endangered Species Act. 

Mounting scientific evidence shows that amphibians and reptiles (together called “herpetofauna”) are among the most imperiled species on Earth. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, overcollection, habitat destruction and disease are key factors leading to demise of amphibians and reptiles in the United States and worldwide. For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the herpetofauna extinction crisis, visit

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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