Indonesian Turtles Found 12 Years Ago Already on the Brink

JAKARTA, Indonesia, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - A small turtle with a neck so long it resembles a snake is such a hit with collectors that illegal trade has driven the species to the brink of extinction.

The Roti Island snake-necked turtle, Chelodina mccordi, found only in the wetlands of the Indonesian island of Roti, was first described as a new species in 1994, but is already considered all but extinct in the wild.

The species is desired by exotic pet enthusiasts in Europe, North America and East Asia, but no legal trade without a permit has been allowed since 2001.

In 2000, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals categorized the species as "Critically Endangered," and in the same year, the Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle was found to be commercially extinct.

turtle

Roti Island snake-necked turtle is considered Critically Endangered. It lives in the dwindling wetlands of the arid island of Roti, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy TRAFFIC)
In 2004, the species was listed in Appendix II of CITES, which requires any international trade to be carried out under a permitting system.

A report issued Thursday by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and the World Conservation Union-IUCN, shows that poachers are sidestepping regulations and smuggling the turtles to Jakarta.

There they are then sold illegally for some $300 to $500 each and, according to dealers, end up in Japan, Western Europe or the United States.

"Collectors and exotic pet enthusiasts need to make sure that the specimens they purchase have not been illegally taken from the wild or illegally brought into the United States," said Simon Habel, director of TRAFFIC North America.

"Roti Island snake-necked turtles should not be purchased unless they have proper permits and documentation. Without strict enforcement of these laws the turtle will have no future in the wild," Habel said.

In Indonesia national quotas are in place for collection and export of the turtle, but to date no licenses for collection have been issued, nor have transport permits been issued for movement from the wild to point-of-export within Indonesia.

Still, there are at least five "large-scale" reptile exporters in Jakarta, who continue to deal in specimens of the Roti Island snake-necked turtle, the TRAFFIC investigators found, although both harvest and export quotas are set at zero.

The turtles are hand carrried by the dealers on Roti island to Jakarta, while turtles smuggled from Kupang are hidden in boxes mixed with food.

The report states that in February 2005 one snake-necked turtle was for sale at a price of $545 in the Barito market.

turtle

Roti Island snake-necked turtle, Chelodina mccordi (Photo by Bonggi Ibarrondo courtesy TRAFFIC)
"We hope that by increasing awareness and enforcement capacity of these agencies, poachers will find it increasingly difficult to smuggle out any of the turtles that remain on Roti Island," said Chris Shepherd from TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and the co-author of the report.

Roti Island is just 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the southwestern tip of the island of Timor. Political unrest on Timor from 1975 to 1999 prevent field research to find out more about the snake-necked turtle. As a result, Shepherd and colleagues write in the report, knowledge of the natural history, biology and ecology of these turtles is scarce.

The report recommends that the government of Indonesia should extend full legal status to the Roti Island snake-necked turtle and train government personnel on Roti Island to enforce the laws that protect the species. The program could serve as a model for wildlife managers and law enforcement agencies on other Indonesia islands where endemic species are targeted by trade in wildlife.

Captive breeding for conservation but not for commercial purposes should be considered as a way to protect the Roti Island snake-necked turtle from extinction, the report recommends.

Other recommendations include getting communities, state and national agencies involved in monitoring and protecting the rare turtles as well as other endemic wildlife.

WWF has worked for decades to stem the illegal trade in wildlife which is the second largest illegal trade in the world, next to drugs, and a major driver of the decline in wildlife worldwide.

The report, "Trade of the Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle Chelodina mccordi," can be found in English and Bahasa Indonesian at www.traffic.org.