Notes from the CITES Conference of Parties

Notes from the CITES Conference of Parties

This month, the 18thmeeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP) occurred in Geneva, Switzerland. Held every three years, the CoP is when countries make legally-binding decisions to improve regulations on international wildlife trade, based on preparation work that occurred in the preceding years.

Amazon Rainforest Fires

Amazon Rainforest Fires

Fire has devastated more than 3,500 square miles of Brazil’s Amazon forest since January, an 85% increase from last year. The fires were largely intentionally set by humans engaged in rampant, illegal deforestation of the Amazon for agriculture, specifically for cattle ranching, as the global demand for meat is on the rise. This devastation has staggering consequences, from the destruction of local wildlife and wildlands to the global health of our planet.

A Not So Transparent Act

A Not So Transparent Act

In our July 2018 blog, we highlighted potential implications to numerous threatened and endangered species in connection with proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) by the current U.S. Presidential Administration. These proposed changes came into effect on August 19, 2019 in the name of "increasing transparency and effectiveness" and were touted by some members of the Department of the Interior as bringing the ESA into the 21st century with a more "effective, consistent and clear interpretation." Superficially, these changes may appear to improve methods for conservation and protection of wildlife in the United States, however in practice, they will substantially erode protections for our nation’s threatened and endangered species.

18,850 Acres of Critical Wildlife Habitat Secured in Northern Mexico!

18,850 Acres of Critical Wildlife Habitat Secured in Northern Mexico!

The Turtle Conservancy, HABIO A.C., Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), and Rainforest Trust partnered on a deal to purchase an 18,850-acre former cattle ranch in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, which will be converted into a desert-grassland wildlife refuge. Endemic lizards, critically-endangered Bolson tortoises, migratory birds, and a variety of resident mammals are among the many species of animals set to benefit from the preservation of this biodiverse landscape, showing again how saving turtles can save the planet.

This habitat bolsters the land the Turtle Conservancy and partners protect for wildlife in the region to 62,439 acres, nearly 4 ½ times the size of Manhattan!

The Tortoise Magazine Issue 8 Release

The Tortoise Magazine Issue 8 Release

The 8th (GIANT) issue of The Tortoise is here! This year’s magazine spotlights the giant tortoises of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, punctuated by a spectacular achievement in turtle conservation in 2019—the rediscovery of a tortoise on Fernandina Island in the Galápagos…

TC Joins Aussie Ark

TC Joins Aussie Ark

On the northern coast of New South Wales, the Manning River Sawshelled Turtle paddles secretively amongst the platypuses. The species is so rarely seen it was declared “Endangered” by the Australian government in 2017. It is one of the regions three endemic turtles, along with the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle and Bell's Sawshelled Turtle, all of which are Endangered and which are found nowhere else on Earth...

Conservation Center Updates

Conservation Center Updates

The tortoises of the genus Manouriaare the oldest forms of tortoises living today. These living dinosaurs include the Asian Giant Tortoises and the Impressed Tortoise. The Turtle Conservancy manages both of these species at our southern California Conservation Center, and this past month we were very excited to get large clutches of eggs from our tortoises...

Conservation Drones Oil Eggs

In the fight to save the Mojave Desert Tortoise from extinction, drone technology is being deployed throughout their range to help control exploding raven populations. Click the button below to read Louis Sahagun’s LA Times article on the cutting-edge of conservation biology.

In Search of the Ryukyu Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle

In Search of the Ryukyu Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle

Last May, a Turtle Conservancy team went into the field in southern Japan to observe the Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle (Geoemyda japonica). This small turtle is endemic to the Ryukyu archipelago, and was designated as a natural monument by the prefecture of Okinawa in 1973…

Spring Fundraising Campaign

Spring Fundraising Campaign

On May 23rd, the Turtle Conservancy celebrated World Turtle Day by launching a public awareness and fundraising campaign inspired by the recent UN report on global biodiversity. The report argued that one million of Earth’s species are at risk of extinction due to human-caused activities. The Turtle Conservancy is working to protect biodiversity through habitat conservation, research and global awareness…

Species Highlight

Photo by Nathanael Stanek

Photo by Nathanael Stanek

The Bog Turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) is a small species of turtle native to the Eastern United States. It is considered to be one of the smallest turtle species on Earth, rarely weighing more than 110 grams as a full-grown adult. Despite their name, they live in a very unique habitat known as a fen—not a bog as it turns out—a wetland fed by mineral-rich surface or groundwater and characterized by an assembly of grasses, sedges, and mosses. They have drab, brown shells (making for great camouflage among the peat-rich mud) occasionally with subtle orange radiating patterns on the scutes, and a black or brown underside with intermittent yellow-to-orange markings. The skin bears similar coloration but the head is distinguishable by two bright yellow-orange spots on each side of their head.

In the spring, they emerge from their muddy tunnels among the roots to forage, bask, and mate throughout the fen’s thick tussocks of sedges/grasses and clumps sphagnum moss. Perhaps the most unique behavior is their choice of nesting site. Unlike other turtles, females do not lay eggs in a sandy or soil substrate, but rather choose to build nests in clumps of vegetation around June/July. Therefore, the species is highly dependent on this specific assembly of vegetation. Typically, a female bog turtle’s clutch size will range from one to five eggs. From September to April, the turtles usually hibernate in small groups deep under the mud and cave-like structures created by the plants. Bog turtles are omnivorous, with a diet consisting of aquatic plants, small berries, and fruits, as well as invertebrates such as slugs, snails, worms, and small insects. The bog turtle ranges along the Appalachians in disjunct populations from North Georgia up to Lake Ontario in New York State.

Unfortunately, because of their unique characteristics, bog turtles are sought out in the illegal pet trade. An adult bog turtle is worth a few thousand dollars on the black market. Because of habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade, they are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Due to human activities, their population size has decreased by at least 50% in the past 30 years. In fact, the primary threat to the bog turtle is habitat loss and destruction. The fen is a very sensitive ecosystem threatened by habitat conversion/oss due to human development involving the draining and filling of wetlands. Human encroachment also leads to the spread of invasive plants and the subsidization generalist predators like raccoons that prey upon the turtles. When females are laying just a few eggs per year, factors like these can quickly decimate populations. On a positive note, the bog turtle is strictly protected under the United States Federal Endangered Species Act and has been considered as threatened by many states, including New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, since 1997.

Many studies have been performed to find the best conservation strategies for bog turtles.  Radio telemetry has been used to follow released animals that were bred in captivity and to further collect data on the bog turtle’s natural history and survival following release. This technique (known as head-starting) along with habitat restoration methods have been found to be the best way to pursue the conservation efforts for this threatened little turtle.

News From the Field

News From the Field

In early May, TC Board Chair Anders Rhodin and TC field programs director Peter Paul van Dijk visited Mexico to evaluate progress in management of the Bolson Tortoise Ecosystem Preserve by the TC’s local affiliate HABIO, A.C. Working with HABIO’s treasurer Judith Rios, progress was made towards full-time management of the Preserve, while we also continue to work towards possible future expansion of strictly protected areas for Bolson Tortoises. Among the highlights were the opportunity provided by our colleague Gamaliel Castañeda to give presentations to a large gathering of students and staff of the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango at Gomez Palacio; Anders spoke about the conservation status of tortoises and freshwater turtles world-wide, while Peter Paul spoke about the opportunities and challenges of private protected areas for biodiversity conservation... 

Turtle Crossings!

Turtle Crossings!

It’s turtle nesting season in the Northern Hemisphere! Turtles rarely leave their home range for much of the year, but during breeding season they will travel far to find mates or a suitable place to nest. There are 59 species of turtles and tortoises in North America, but you might encounter some species more than others on roads. Depending on your location, it is common to find Painted Turtles, Common Snapping Turtles, and Diamondback Terrapins attempting to cross roads throughout the East and Central United States. These species suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation as well as the destruction of nesting sites, largely from housing and commercial developments encroaching on the beaches and sandy and soil areas where turtles like to nest. Consequently, females will travel longer distances in search of proper nesting habitat...

Geometric Tortoise Preserve Update

Geometric Tortoise Preserve Update

The Turtle Conservancy is excited to report the addition of 57.5 acres of land to our 800-acre Geometric Tortoise Preserve in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The parcel was purchased with a substantial grant from the Rainforest Trust and will double the amount of critical habitat protected at the southern portion of the reserve. The Turtle Conservancy’s Geometric Tortoise Preserve contains more than 80% of the remaining Geometric Tortoises on the planet…

Species Highlight

Species Highlight

The Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi) is a recently described species of turtle endemic to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The name Leucocephalon refers to the white head coloration in males of the species, while yuwonoi refers to the animal collector Franck Yuwono, who was the first to obtain specimens of this turtle…

Conservation Organizations Gathered to Discuss Enhanced Wildlife Protections in the U.S.-Mexico Border States

On February 21, some 40 wildlife conservation leaders and specialists representing 22 American and Mexican non-governmental organizations, were gathered during the 44th Annual Symposium of the Desert Tortoise Council, in Tucson, Arizona, to celebrate recent successes and to accelerate protection of transboundary wildlife corridors, with a focus on supporting private lands conservation on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands…