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.

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.

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…

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.

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…

Turtle rehabilitation at MOHS Habitat

Turtle rehabilitation at MOHS Habitat

Volunteering in the greenhouse habitat, several Mount Olive High School students care for the animals, learn skills in the field of biology and ecology, and participate in a rehabilitation program for the animals. The students are currently helping rehabilitate several turtles for the Turtle Conservancy, an organization that helps protect over 300 species of endangered turtles throughout the world. These turtles will be returned to the care of Maurice Rodrigues in May, one of the founders of the program…

Wildlife Trade Update

Wildlife Trade Update

The Turtle Conservancy continues to assist the US Fish and Wildlife Service in triage management of confiscated turtles and tortoises from the illegal wildlife trade. In total, the Turtle Conservancy has taken in over 100 animals in 2018. The majority of which are U.S. species being exported to Asia…

Vote for the Environment

Vote for the Environment

What can you do, you ask? Vote. VOTE. VOTE. VOTE!! The midterm elections on November 6 offer all Americans a chance to shape our (and the turtles’) future for the better. If you believe that climate change is real, if you don't like wildlife poaching, if you don't want to see even more endangered turtles and other wildlife go extinct, you can vote for candidates who share your values. Vote! The turtles are counting on you...

Species Highlight

Species Highlight

The Okinawa Leaf Turtle is a cryptic species, with a highly colorful red to yellow pattern. This turtle has been highly desired by collectors, but at the same time scientist didn’t know a lot about this animal…

Saving the Pacific Leatherback

Saving the Pacific Leatherback

Please support our efforts in conjunction with Paso Pacifico in the construction of two new hatcheries in Nicaragua to protect nests from poachers and predators. Help us reach our goal of $8,000 by October 1st!

The Russians Are Here!

The Russians Are Here!

Along with interfering in American elections, the Russians have now established themselves at the Turtle Conservancy–Russian tortoises, that is. Ten of the tortoises arrived over this summer as homeless rescues, abandoned when their owners tired of them. Our Russians are settling in nicely; they are completely uninterested in computers, so we're not concerned about their hacking into our systems...

Madagascar Update

Madagascar Update

As previously reported, 10,976 Critically Endangered Radiated tortoises were discovered in Toliara, a town on the southwestern coast of Madagascar. Authorities received complaints of a disturbing smell of death and excrement coming from a two-story house. Upon inspection, thousands of juvenile tortoises occupied the floors, sinks, and bathtubs. They had no food, no water and were lying in their own waste. Over 500 were already dead…

Saving Madagascar’s Ploughshare Tortoise

Saving Madagascar’s Ploughshare Tortoise

The Ploughshare Tortoise is the most endangered tortoise in the world. With wild populations on the brink of extinction, it has become clear to the conservation community that action must be scaled up substantially if we hope to save this species...

Saving the Imperiled Palawan Forest Turtle

Saving the Imperiled Palawan Forest Turtle

Through the efforts of our partner the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI), and with support from Rainforest Trust, Global Wildlife Conservation and Turtle Conservancy, the local government of Mendoza with the support of the municipal government of Roxas, Palawan, designated 1890 acres of forest lands as a Protected Watershed, in effect creating a wildlife protection area which will directly benefit the Critically Endangered Palawan Forest Turtle.

AZA Awards TC $25,500 for Ploughshare Tortoise Conservation

AZA Awards TC $25,500 for Ploughshare Tortoise Conservation

Ploughshare Tortoise conservation just received a tremendous boost from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Grants Fund through their highly competitive process...

US Fish & Wildlife Service Media Event

The Turtle Conservancy works alongside the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help facilitate law enforcement and seizures of illegally traded turtles and tortoises. When live turtles and tortoises are confiscated in and around Los Angeles International Airport, the TC offers free accommodations for these homeless travelers, some of whom originate halfway around the world in places like Southeast Asia.

Operation Jungle Book, a law enforcement initiative led by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that targeted wildlife smuggling, has resulted in federal criminal charges against 16 defendants who allegedly participated in the illegal importation and/or transportation of numerous animal species – including a tiger, monitor lizards, cobras, Asian “lucky” fish, turtles, exotic songbirds and several coral species…