Recently, the researchers from the Institute of Zoology, Guandong Academy of Sciences (IOZ, GAS), the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, Ministry of Ecology and Environment (PRC), and the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences have collaborated to call for strengthening the protection of China's wild turtles. Their article entitled “China's wild turtles at risk of extinction” was published in Science on May 22, 2020.
In this study, the researchers highlight the high species diversity of China's wild turtles (34 species), which rank the third in the world, including three tortoise species, five marine turtle species and 26 freshwater turtle species. However, wild populations of China's most turtle species have dropped by over 90% and most species are endangered, especially, large species and cuora species are critically endangered, mainly due to long-term over-exploitation, illegal trade, habitat destruction and biological invasion. Based on the “Red list of Biodiversity of China”, all China's turtle species are evaluated as “endangered species” or “critically endangered species” except for three turtle species without valid data. If no effective protection measures, Chinese wild turtles will face the risk of extinction in future.
Turtles are contemporaries with dinosaurs and have the reputation of “living fossil”. They have important scientific research value in the exploration of biological evolution and longevity. In addition, in Chinese traditional culture, turtles together with dragon, phoenix and kylin are called the "Four Spirits", while turtles are the only real animals and are also a symbol of auspiciousness, longevity and power. Consequently, turtles are becoming popular pets, as well as food and medicine that have potential to strengthen the body and prolong life. Due to the huge market demand, the exploration of wild turtle resources has become the largest threat to turtles. Although some turtle species are now available in captivity on a large scale, the hunt for wild turtles has never stopped. Nearly two-thirds of Chinese turtle species are not included in the the “National Key-Protected Species List”, and protection is poor in legal .
It is imperative to strengthen the protection of China's endangered turtles and maintain biodiversity. Based on the long-term investigation on turtle ecology and protection, the study puts forward two conservation suggestions. First, strengthen ecological education, develop traditional culture to cherish turtles, and change people's consciousness from emphasizing consumption to emphasizing protection. Second, all endangered turtle species should be listed in the “National Key-Protected Species List”, strengthen enforcement of protection law, crack down on poaching and illegal trade, and strictly control the invasion of harmful alien turtle species.
The study are supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31471966) the Biodiversity Survey, Observation and Assessment Program of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (2019-2023), and the Science and Technology Development Program of the Guangdong Academy of Sciences (2018GDASCX-0107).