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Illegal trade is propelling rare turtle toward extinction, new report


A new report released today finds that the illegal trade in the Roti Island snake-necked turtle, found only on one island in Indonesia, has left it all but extinct in the wild. Exotic pet enthusiasts in Europe, North America and East Asia are fueling the illegal trade for the turtle, often without realizing that they are contributing to its demise. No legal trade of this species has been allowed since 2001.

The report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and IUCN, "Trade of the Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle Chelodina mccordi," can be found in English and Bahasa Indonesian at WWF has worked for decades to stem the illegal trade in wildlife which is the second largest illegal trade in the world, next to drugs, and a major driver of the decline in wildlife worldwide.

"Collectors and exotic pet enthusiasts need to make sure that the specimens they purchase have not been illegally taken from the wild or illegally brought into the United States," said Simon Habel, Director of TRAFFIC North America. "Roti Island snake-necked turtles should not be purchased unless they have proper permits and documentation. Without strict enforcement of these laws the turtle will have no future in the wild."

The turtle, whose scientific name is Chelodina mccordi, is a small, odd-looking creature prized by collectors, with a long neck that extends far from its body and resembles a snake. The turtle is found only in the wetlands of the island of Roti was first described as a new species in 1994.

The report found that poachers are sidestepping regulations and smuggling the turtles to Jakarta where they are then sold illegally and, according to dealers, end up in Japan, Western Europe or the United States.

The report includes recommendations, including better protection within Indonesia, capacity building to increase and improve enforcement against poachers and educating enforcement officials and exotic pet dealers in the U.S., Japan and other countries where the turtles are still in high demand.

"We hope that by increasing awareness and enforcement capacity of these agencies, poachers will find it increasingly difficult to smuggle out any of the turtles that remain on Roti Island," said Chris Shepherd from TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and the co-author of the report.

In 2000, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals categorized the species as "Critically Endangered," and in the same year, the Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle was found to be commercially extinct. The species is listed in Appendix II of CITES, which requires any international trade to be carried out under a permitting system. In Indonesia national quotas are in place for collection and export of the turtle but to date, no licenses for collection have been issued, nor transport permits issued for movement from the wild to point-of-export within Indonesia.

Sarah Janicke | EurekAlert!
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