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Group Aims to Bring World's Most Endangered Turtles Back from the Brink

Burmese Star Tortoise
The Burmese start tortoise is one of the 25 most endangered turtle species in the world, as determined by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other conservation groups. (Image credit: WCS)

Good news if you belong to one of the world's most endangered turtle species: The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is doubling down on its efforts to save threatened tortoises and freshwater turtles from extinction.

More than half of the approximately 330 species that belong to these groups are threatened by habitat loss and illegal trade. The world's turtle trade is largely driven by demand from China, where turtles are bought for eating, traditional medicine and as pets.

In 2011, the WCS and other groups identified the 25 most endangered turtle and tortoise species in the world, and the new effort focuses on several of these.

The WCS plans to breed and reintroduce some species into the wild, while for others, the group will develop so-called assurance colonies, which are captive groups that are used to maintain genetic diversity within the species. Other groups will be protected through field work efforts.

Some of the species the new effort will focus on are the Burmese starred tortoise (Geochelone platynota), the Burmese roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata), the Southern River terrapin (Batagur affinis) and the Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii). Individuals will be reintroduced into the wild for these species to bolster populations. For the three aquatic species, efforts to reduce drowning in fishing nets will be put in place.

The group also plans to work closely with governments in countries that are centers of turtle diversity, including Cambodia, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

"Only by garnering the vast knowledge and resources from across the whole of WCS can we successfully address the threats to the world's endangered turtles," said Elizabeth Bennett, WCS vice president of species conservation. "WCS's long history and current broad and deep expertise position us to rise to this challenge, and to conserve the threatened species across this ancient, diverse and fascinating lineage."

WCS will also be starting a captive breeding program at the Bronx Zoo, which it runs for threatened turtle species native to New York. Several species, including the spotted turtle (Cyclemys gutatta), Eastern box turtle (Carolina terrapene), and wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) will be kept in outdoor enclosures off-exhibit.

Live Science Staff
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