For centuries, the Chinese people have used turtles for food, medicine, aphrodisiacs, and other purposes thought to be beneficial. Supply and demand seemed to be in balance. The supply of domestic turtles in China had been enough for all but the coldest winter months (Bangladesh became the first country to help cover this three-month turtle-deficient period).
For the most part the use appeared to be sustainable up until the last 1015 years. Then came the money, improved communication, and improved transportation. Now with a market economy, the new China with old turtle traditions increased its demand for turtles many-fold. Chinas own species were devoured and ground up with little or no concern for their replacement; greed was placed over concern for conservation and humane treatment. China was soon relying year round on outside sources for turtles Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Japan, the United States, and others (to a lesser extent) have supplied them by the millions.
All turtles in China are presently endangered. All turtles from Southeast Asia to Irian Jaya (West Papua New Guinea) are now seriously threatened. All turtles anywhere in the world are at risk as long as the demand remains high, money is to be made, and no one cares. Unfortunately, present regulatory efforts seem ineffective, including those of IATA and CITES.
Certain Chinese species require immediate attention: Cuora aurocapitata, Cuora mccordi, and Cuora zhoui now sell for over $1,000 each wholesale, and currently only five to ten individuals a year of each species are being found! Ocadia glyphistoma, Ocadia philippeni, and Sacalia pseudocellata have not been found in the wild for over three years! Ocadia sinensis, Chinemys nigricans (kwangtungensis), Chinemys megacephala, and Palea steindachneri are now scarce, especially adults. The once-common Chinemys reevesii is now so uncommon that Chinas own domestic pet trade finds Trachemys scripta elegans from the USA less expensive to sell. Cuora trifasciata is believed to cure cancer, and at a current market value of one U.S. dollar per gram, every last individual will be hunted down and ground up or eaten. These are just a few examples.
Chinas turtles are already commercially extinct; they are truly vanishing more every day. The countries currently supplying the Chinese market will continue to do so until their own diminishing turtle populations make the effort and costs outweigh the profits to be made. At that point the turtles of Southeast Asia will be lost as well. The hungry markets will then find new suppliers. Take a moment to think about it: such devastating losses are certainly unacceptable, but they will become a reality unless the world starts to care before its too late.
Bill McCord, September 1999
The Guangzhou and Shenzhen Markets in China in 1997
Unless otherwise indicated, photos posted here were taken at the Peng Ling Market in Guangzhou.
Clicking a thumbnail below will open a new browser window;