Endangered status an advantage to turtle traders
More than half the freshwater turtle and tortoise species sold by pet dealers in Jakarta markets are threatened and nearly all are obtained illegally, according to a survey by the WWF-linked wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
Dealers told the survey team that protected status was a selling point for freshwater turtles and tortoises and they were able to ask higher prices for them. They were also quite open on most stock being sourced through illegal capture or imports.
The TRAFFIC Southeast Asia survey covered 20 pet retailers in the greater Jakarta area and found 48 freshwater turtle and tortoise species, both native and exotic, were for sale. Of these, 26 were species featured on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List as threatened.
As there is no commercial breeding of exotic or indigenous turtles in Indonesia, all specimens in trade were either harvested from the wild within Indonesia or were imported into the country.
Demand for turtles is increasing in many south-east Asian countries, because the upper and the growing middle classes are willing to buy rare species to keep them as pets. But the majority of turtles are still destined for markets in North America, Europe and Japan.
Even if dealers are fully aware of the law, the majority of the trade is not carried out in accordance with Indonesiaâ€™s national legislation or with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
â€œWe encourage the Government of Indonesia to ensure combating wildlife crime is given high priority, and that every effort is made to clamp down on the criminals involved in it,â€ says Chris Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
As there is no scientific evidence on the impact the harvest has on wild populations, TRAFFIC recommends to apply the precautionary principle and to lower all export quotas to zero until the necessary assessment of the sustainability of trade levels is completed.
Furthermore, concerned NGOs and relevant government agencies should carry out regularly monitoring and reporting on the trade in freshwater turtles and tortoises. This should be combined with capacity building and training for government officers responsible for trade monitoring and law enforcement.
Dealers illegally trading or harvesting wildlife also need to be penalized under Indonesian law.