Over 11,000 tortoises and freshwater turtles entered illegal wildlife trade in India every year since 2009 according to a TRAFFIC’ study

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New Delhi: To draw attention towards the illicit poaching and smuggling of Testudines in India, TRAFFIC reveals that a minimum of 1,11,310 tortoises and freshwater turtles entered illegal wildlife trade in a 10-year period i.e. September 2009–September 2019. This equates to more than 11,000 individuals in illegal wildlife trade every year or at least 200 per week since 2009. Considering that an unknown proportion of illegal wildlife trade presumably goes undetected, the actual numbers could be much higher.

Unauthorised extraction from the wild for illegal trade as pets, and for food and medicine, are the main drivers of this trade. The findings were revealed through a factsheet “Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles Under Siege” that provides an insight into poaching and illegal trade of tortoises and freshwater turtles in India.

Most of the turtles and tortoise species of India are protected under various Schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, under which hunting, trade or any other form of utilization of the species or their body parts and derivatives is banned. All turtle and tortoise species from India are also listed under CITES regulating their international trade.

Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal emerged as the two major hotspots in terms of total number of animals seized, accounting for more than 60% of all reported seizures from 19 States and 2 Union Territories of the country indicating the wide expanse of this illegal trade.

In total 14 Indian species of turtles and tortoises were found to be traded, of which Indian Star Tortoise Geochelone elegans accounted for 49% of the total identifiable individuals seized, followed by Indian Softshell Turtle Nilssonia gangetica (26%), Indian Flapshell Turtle Lissemys punctata (15%) and Black spotted or Spotted Pond Turtle Geoclemys hamiltonii (9%).

At the 18th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP18) held in August this year, Indian Star Tortoise was up-listed to Appendix I from Appendix II owing to its over exploitation.

Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India office and author of the study said, “Tortoises and freshwater turtles in India are probably the most traded wildlife species in terms of their numbers in illegal trade. It is extremely worrisome to see the scale of the illegal domestic market for these species for the pet trade and for meat consumption. The size of seizures of Indian species within India is indicative of a well-organised network of collectors, transporters and traffickers operating this trade. Immediate action both in terms of law enforcement initiatives as well as awareness about the species concerned is required”.

Mr Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India added, “Turtles and tortoises are mainly scavengers and keep aquatic ecosystems clean while some species help keep populations of snails and insects in check. It is important that they are conserved in their natural habitat. We are hopeful that this study will highlight the plight of tortoises and freshwater turtles in India and will lead to enhanced awareness and related actions”.

Dr Shailendra Singh, Director of Turtle Survival Alliance India Program says that training wildlife law enforcement agencies in identifying the species in trade is crucial to combating its poaching and illegal trade.

TRAFFIC’s present study helps assess the extent of poaching, identify trade hotspots, and understand poaching and trade dynamics in India.

The factsheet “Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles Under Siege” can be downloaded at www.trafficindia.org

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