For Immediate Release, December 18, 2020

Contact:

Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950, ebennett@biologicaldiversity.org

Diamondback Terrapin Among 10 Species Threatened by Wildlife Trade

New Report Calls for End to Wildlife Trafficking, Unsustainable Trade

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Wildlife trafficking and unsustainable trade are driving species’ decline and, in some cases, posing a threat to human health, according to a report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition.

The report, Trafficked: 10 Species Threatened by the Wildlife Trade, details how the multi-billion-dollar legal and illegal wildlife and plant trade industries have become major threats to species in the U.S. and worldwide.

The diamondback terrapin turtle, a small turtle with speckled skin and a diamond patterned shell, is among the 10 species featured in the report that are especially threatened by legal and illegal wildlife trade. In combination with other threats — including habitat loss, drowning in crab traps and being hit by cars — trade and trafficking have caused terrapin populations to decline and disappear from some areas.

The Center for Biological Diversity nominated the terrapin for the report because of a growing demand for the turtles as pets and for food, which has led to increased illegal trafficking. In the last few years, wildlife officials from New Jersey to Florida have apprehended poachers illegally taking wild terrapins for commercial trade.

“Diamondback terrapins are wild animals, not collectable trinkets,” said Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately, the terrapin’s exceptional beauty has made it a target for the pet trade. Wildlife officials should end wild trapping and crack down on traffickers to ensure a bright future for this rare little turtle.”

The diamondback terrapin is the only turtle in the world that lives exclusively in the semi-salty waters of estuaries. It is thought to be a keystone species in those ecosystems. It can be found along U.S. coasts from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, south to the Florida Keys and west to Corpus Christi, Texas. Some of the greatest threats to the terrapin include commercial exploitation, drowning in crab pots, road kills, habitat loss and sea-level rise caused by climate change.

Recognizing the need for stronger protections, Florida wildlife officials this week approved a draft rule to protect diamondback terrapins in the state from wild collection. In October, South Carolina adopted rules to protect native turtles including terrapins from commercial trade. And New York and New Jersey have also ended commercial terrapin trapping within the last five years. Terrapins are still at risk from legal and illegal exploitation in many states across their range.

Several of the species in the report are part of the global pet trade, such as the yellow-headed parrot and the Tokay gecko. Others are sought for food or medicinal properties, including the Scalloped hammerhead shark, pinto abalone and the pangolin — a scaly, armadillo-like creature that may have played a role in the emergence of the novel coronavirus.

Still others are coveted as “collectables,” including the Venus flytrap and the rufous hummingbird. The Diamondback terrapins of the U.S. Gulf Coast are trapped and traded for use as pets and food.

“Wildlife and plant trafficking and trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry that threatens fish, wildlife and plants as well as human communities,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We need governments and leaders around the world to commit to ending wildlife trade and trafficking, while developing alternative, sustainable economic opportunities for communities.”

Background

Scientists believe that the novel coronavirus now sweeping the planet, COVID-19, jumped from wildlife to humans, likely via a bat and possibly spilling over to a pangolin too. The pangolin is the most trafficked mammal in the world and one of the 10 species featured in the report.

Similarly, SARS, Ebola and HIV all likely originated from the exploitation of wildlife. In fact, the vast majority of new infectious diseases that have emerged in recent years are “zoonotic” diseases, and climate change is worsening the threat.

To protect human health and prevent future pandemics, the report calls for new policies, better enforcement and a commitment to end wildlife trafficking and unsustainable wildlife trade.

Some members of Congress have started work to address wildlife exploitation, including Senators John Cornyn and Cory Booker, who have crafted the bipartisan Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020. The bill would prohibit the sale of live wild animals for food — a practice thought to possibly be connected with the emergence of COVID-19 — but has yet to be heard in committee.

The Endangered Species Coalition’s member groups nominated species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations and chose the finalists.

The full report, along with photos can be viewed and downloaded here: https://www.endangered.org/campaigns/annual-top-ten-report/trafficked. The Endangered Species Coalition produces a Top 10 report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website.

Diamondback_terrapin_by_George_L_Heinrich__FPWC_Ok_for_media_use.JPG
Diamondback terrapin. Photo courtesy of George L. Heinrich. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.