The Asian Turtle Crisis

This page has been translated
into Estonian by Boris Kozlow.

This page has been tranlated
into Polish by Abdul Satter.

“When the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more,
another heaven and another earth must pass away for such a one can be again.”

— William Beebe, Naturalist

The exploitation of Asian turtles
has brought many species to the brink of extinction.

  • “The living chelonians of the world are in perilous decline.  Today, there is no more serious turtle crisis than that which is taking place in Southeast Asia and southern China.  Southeast Asia is being vacuumed of its turtles for China’s food markets.”

    — John L. Behler, Wildlife Conservation Society

  • “A billion people in China, formerly constrained from regular consumption of luxury foods like turtle by lack of cash, are wielding new-found economic power.  Ross Perot might describe the ‘giant sucking sound’ of millions of turtles being wrenched from their habitats in Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia to meet the insatiable demand and high prices offered by Chinese markets.”

    — Peter C. H. Pritchard, Chelonia Institute

  • “Survivors of countless millennia, turtles on the brink of our new millennium face imminent demise at the hands of humans.  We are facing a turtle survival crisis unprecedented in its severity and risk.  Without intervention, countless species will be lost over the next few decades.

    — Anders G. J. Rhodin, Chelonia Research Foundation

  • “We are on the brink of losing a group of animals that has managed to survive the upheavals of the last 200 million years, including the great extinction episode that eliminated the dinosaurs.”

    — Russell Mittermeier, Conservation International

     The decline of turtle and tortoise populations worldwide has been cause for serious concern among scientists and wildlife conservationists for more than twenty years.  But over the past decade the impact of the Chinese market on the already precarious status of Asian turtles has reached disastrous proportions.  Early alarms were sounded at the 1993 symposium in Purchase, New York, Conservation, Restoration, and Management of Tortoises and Turtles — An International Conference (see overview of conference proceedings).  Reports at subsequent meetings have further documented the ongoing and, in many cases, precipitous declines.

      Over the past sevaral years, articles in the popular press have raised public awareness.  Reports, news articles, links, and photographs on this site bring together much of the currently available material. Together, they just begin to reveal the extent and gravity of this crisis.  We are seeking reports from Southeast Asian countries on the population status and degree of exploitation of their indigenous turtles, as well as information on local and international protective efforts.  Contributions of additional material are welcome; please contact us.

Species Currently Impacted by the Chinese Food Market

Apalone ferox, Apalone spinfera, *Aspideretes gangeticus, *Aspideretes hurum, Batagur baska, Callagur borneoensis, *Chelydra serpentina, *Chinemys megalocephala, Chinemys nigricans (kwangtungensis), *Chinemys reevesi, Chitra indica, *Cuora amboinensis, Cuora aurocapitata, *Cuora flavomarginata, *Cuora galbinifrons, Cuora mccordi, Cuora pani, *Cuora serrata, Cuora trifasciata, Cuora zhoui, *Cyclemys dentata, *Cyclemys tcheponensis, *Dogania subplanus, Geochelone platynota, *Geoclemys hamiltoni, Geomyda depressa, Geomyda spengleri, *Geomyda yuwonoi, *Heosemys grandis, *Heosemys spinosa, Hieremys annandalei, *Indostestudo elongata, Kachuga dhongoka, Kachuga kachuga, Kachuga smithi, *Kachuga tecta, Kachuga tentoria, *Lissemys andersoni (punctata), *Malayemys subtrijuga, *Manauria emys, *Manauria impressa, *Mauremys annamensis, Mauremys iversoni, *Mauremys mutica, Mauremys pritchardi, Melanochelys edeniana, Melanochelys indopeninsularis, *Morenia ocellata, *Morenia petersi, Nilssonia formosa, *Notochelys platynota, Ocadia glyphistoma, Ocadia philippeni, Ocadia sinensis, *Orlitia borneensis, Palea steindachneri, Pelochelys cantori, Pelodiscus japonica, *Pelodiscus sinensis, *Platysternon megacephalum, *Pyxidea mohouti, Sacalia bealei, Sacalia pseudocellata, *Sacalia quadriocellata, *Siebenrockiella crassicollis, *Trachemys s. elegans

* Species documented in video and still photos of Guangzhou and Shenzhen markets in 1997 (William McCord).  Above: a room in the Guangzhou market is piled knee-deep with Malaysian giant turtles, Orlitia borneensis (photo by William McCord).



Newsletters, reports, and photos from the Turtle Conservation and Ecology Project in the Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam:
     The Cuc Phuong Conservation Project — Vietnam
     Douglas Hendrie, Project Director
Reports from the Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, Chelonian Research Foundation:


      “Making Progress in Freshwater Turtle and Tortoise Conservation”
     by Anders G.J. Rhodin

      “Observations in the Qing Ping Free Market, Guangzhou, China, November 2000”
     by Harald Artner and Andreas Hofer

      “Preliminary Observations of a Large Turtle Farm in Hainan Province, People’s Republic of China”
     by Haitao Shi and James Ford Parham


      “Publisher’s Editorial: Turtle Survival Crisis”
     by Anders G. J. Rhodin

      “Letter from the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group”
     by John L. Behler

      “The United States’ Final Submission For April 2000 CITES Conference”
     (excerpts pertaining to turtles from the Federal Register, November 18, 1999)
     by Patricia Fisher
Proceedings of the Phnom Penh workshop is now available from the Chelonian Research Foundation:
      ASIAN TURTLE TRADE: Proceedings of a Workshop on Conservation and Trade of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises in Asia

     edited by Peter Paul van Dijk, Bryan l. Stuart, and Anders G. J. Rhodin; published August 2000

The 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meeting in April 2000 in Nairobi, Kenya, listed all Cuora species (Asian box turtles) in Appendix II.  For additional details, see CITES Meeting.

Report by Pro Wildlife, Munich, Germany, submitted to the Animals Committee, CITES, July 1999; includes population status tables:
     “Asian Turtles Are Threatened by Extinction”
Forward to the Proceedings: Conservation, Restoration, and Management of Tortoises and Turtles — An International Conference, a reflection on the perilous status of turtles worldwide, with particular emphasis on Asian turtles:
     “Troubled Times for Turtles”

     by John L. Behler (June 1997)

NEWS ARTICLES (close browser window to return to this page):

Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Newsletter, Fall 2000
(entire newsletter reproduced courtesy of the CBC, American Museum of Natural History)

     Links to articles related to Vietnam:
     “Turtles in Trouble”
     “The Conservation Education Network”
     “Viet Nam: Filling in the Gaps”
     “Interpreting Biodiversity in Viet Nam”
Inter Press Service News Report, August 27, 2000:

     “ENVIRONMENT-PAKISTAN: Exports Threaten Freshwater Turtle” by Muddassir Rizvi

     This article has been translated into Polish.

BBC newslink, August 27, 1999:
     “Turtles in the Soup”

by Alex Kirby
CNN newslink, August 27, 1999 (similar to previous article):
      “Half of World’s Turtles Face Extinction, Scientists Say”
Conservation International, August 24, 1999;
on the Powdermill IV Conference, held August 13–15, 1999, Laughlin, Nevada:
      “Trouble for the World’s Turtles”
From Scientific American, June 1999:
     “Turtle Tragedy”

     by Wendy Williams
From The Tortoise Trust Newsletter, Spring, 1999 (Tortoise Trust Web page):
      “Turtles in Crisis: The Asian Food Markets”

     by James E. Barzyk
From the New York Times on the Web, May 4, 1999
(article free with registration):
     “Turtles Vanish in Black Hole: Soup Pots and Pans of China”

     by Carol Kaesuk Yoon
From Audubon, March 1, 1999:
     “The Terrible Turtle Trade”

     by Ted Williams


Asian Turtle Conservation Network (ATCN) — a non-profit consortium of people, projects and institutions, based in Southeast Asia, actively working to conserve Asia's turtles:
The Turtle Survival Alliance — An IUCN Partnership Network for Sustainable Captive Management of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises):
World Chelonian Trust — issues relating to turtles and tortoises, their care and conservation:
     World Chelonian Trust
The Tortoise Reserve — dedicated to the international conservation of tortoises and freshwater turtles:
MekongInfo — an interactive Web-based system for sharing information and knowledge related to natural resource management in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam:
Asian-Turtle-Crises — Yahoo Discussion Group, moderated, membership.  The purpose of this list is to provide a focused exchange of information and contacts relating to the care, conservation, and husbandry of Asian turtles and tortoises and the crises confronting them:


     “China’s Turtles” and market photos by Bill McCord

The following links (of photographs taken during William McCord’s 1997 China trip) show the butchering of live turtles, a practice common in Chinese markets; photos are graphic.

     Butchering of a Live Malaysian Giant Turtle (photo series)

     Butchering of a Live Softshell Turtle (photo series)


This site is sponsored and maintained by the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society, 1214 W. Boston Post Road, Box 267, Mamaroneck, NY 10543, USA.  Please visit our main site at  See also the International Turtle Conference Proceedings, an overview of the nearly 500-page proceedings volume published in 1997 (includes abstracts of all papers and presented posters).  Send inquiries and comments concerning this site to Jim Van Abbema, Webmaster.