Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Asia’s illegal trade in the Black Spotted Turtle is spiralling out of control. A new TRAFFIC study shows over 10,000 individuals have been seized in two years, eclipsing numbers recorded in a previous six-year study.
The attractive turtle, once wanted for its meat, is now an increasingly popular pet and favoured among wildlife smugglers with many turtles observed for sale in Asian markets or in online trade. Black Spotted Turtle Trade in Asia II: A seizure analysis revealed that at least 10,321 live Black Spotted Turtles Geoclemys hamiltonii were confiscated in 53 seizures between April 2014 and March 2016.
These numbers represent a huge increase from the 2,171 turtles seized in 26 cases recorded between January 2008 and March 2014 ¹. The most significant jump was between 2013 and 2015 when the annual number of seizures and individual
turtles seized tripled.
“For a slow mover, these turtles are going fast. The alarming escalation in seizures in such a short time span is a reminder that enforcement actions must be scaled up. Otherwise, it is unlikely wild populations can take the strain, while criminals continue to profit from crime,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Acting Regional Director for
TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.
Black Spotted Turtles are primarily sourced in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and subsequently transported to Hong Kong SAR and mainland China, often through Southeast Asian transit hubs.
This turtle is protected by national laws throughout its natural range and is listed in Appendix I of CITES², prohibiting all commercial international trade. Nevertheless, Asian demand continues to fuel illegal harvesting and smuggling of the species.
The report names India as the country with the highest number of seizures, accounting for 29% of all turtles seized, and lists Hong Kong second during the study period.
“It’s a major concern that illegal trade of Black Spotted Turtles is on the increase in the country. More focused enforcement efforts would be required to control this,” said Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India office. Over time, however, researchers noted Thailand as the country implicated most consistently since 2009, accounting for about half of all Black Spotted Turtle seized since 2009.
Overall, although 55 suspects were arrested in connection with seizures between April 2014 and March 2016, confirmed convictions remained scarce, with only 20% of arrests resulting in a conviction.
These trends highlight the urgent need for intelligence-led investigations and collaborative law enforcement across source, consumer and transit hotspots to dismantle organised criminal networks around the region.
The study calls for continued vigilance at key international airports through which smuggling is conducted and stronger prosecution efforts to ensure criminals are penalised to the full extent of the law.
The study, released following World Turtle Day 2018, was generously funded by the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) “Asia’s illegal turtle trade has occurred at such a scale and pace that turtles have now become one of the world’s most threatened groups of animals. To stem this tide different groups need to join efforts and
implement multi-prong approaches. As one of the leading zoological institutions in Asia, WRS partners organisations like TRAFFIC in trade research to provide resource for law enforcement agencies. We also support conservation projects in the native habitats of turtles, keep assurance colonies in our care and raising public awareness,” said Dr Sonja Luz, Director of Conservation, Research, and Veterinary Services, WRS.
¹ A previous TRAFFIC study logged 1,960 individuals seized in 22 cases between January 2008 and March 2014. This has since been updated with previously unrecorded seizures, bringing the new total up to 2,171 turtles seized in 26 seizure cases
² Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
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