In the fall of 2020 PARC TNT united with the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles (CCITT). By joining forces, the two groups hope to efficiently grow partnerships confronting the illegal trade throughout North America, specifically supporting state, tribal, and federal staff. Learn more about the CCITT here.
In May of 2020 PARC TNT worked with the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles (CCITT), the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) to write and circulate a Call to Action to Protect North America’s Native Turtles from Illegal Collection. This letter was intended to galvanize support within the conservation community for coordinated efforts to address threats to North American turtles. You can read the full Call to Action Letter here.
The Mission of PARC’s Turtle Networking Team
To facilitate and guide action through public-private partnerships to conserve native, North American turtle populations.
Key Objectives of the PARC’s Turtle Networking Team
- Identify greatest issues and concerns related to the understanding and management of native, North American turtle populations.
- Coordinate and develop partnerships, strategies, and tools to address broad-scale, North American turtle conservation issues.
- Provide a centralized online location where turtle conservation outreach products, resources, and contacts are available.
A Wildlife-trafficking Crisis Close to Home: Native Turtles Need Our Help
Turtles have endured on Earth since the days of dinosaurs. But today many turtle populations in the U.S. are experiencing dramatic declines due to interacting threats: habitat loss, climate change, and car strikes when crossing roads.
The most alarming threat to turtles may be one we cannot easily see. Law enforcement officials have reported a dramatic rise in illegal shipments of U.S. native freshwater turtles and tortoises at major ports across the country, destined for both foreign and domestic markets.
While we don’t know how many turtles we are losing to the illegal trade, we do know that every turtle counts. Biologically, turtles are more vulnerable to illegal collection than most other wildlife: adult turtles often have to reproduce for their entire lives to ensure just one hatchling survives to adulthood. And it takes years, sometimes decades, for turtles to reach reproductive age, if they make it at all. Most fall victim to predators, like birds and fish, before they mature.
That means when people take individual turtles, they put entire populations at risk. Some people take hundreds, even thousands, driven by demand in the U.S. and abroad for exotic pets.
Our turtles are special, and irreplaceable. The U.S. is home to a greater number of turtle species than any other individual country— many live only here. That’s why conservation partners are working together to address turtle trafficking through the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles. But we need your help too.
- Learn ways you can help protect turtles
- Share information about helping turtles with others using our outreach toolkit
- Read more about this issue, and what conservation partners are doing to address it
Six Things You Can Do to Help Protect Native Turtles
1. Report suspicious activity
If you suspect someone is illegally collecting or selling wild turtles, call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s tip line (1–844-FWS-TIPS) or your state wildlife agency. The Service is authorized to pay rewards for information or assistance that leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of seized property.
Learn more about what to look for.
2. Help turtles cross roads
If it’s safe for you to do so, escort turtles across the road in the direction they are already heading.
Don’t ever take a turtle home, or move it to a different location. The turtle is better off in the habitat it’s accustomed to, with the friends (and enemies) it already knows.
If you find an injured turtle, call your local animal control office, humane society, or veterinarian for help finding a certified wildlife rehabilitator.
3. Don’t share turtle locations online
It can be exciting to see turtles in the wild, and to share your discovery. But before you take a photo of a turtle in the wild, turn off the geolocation on your phone. If you post a photo of a turtle on social media, don’t include information about where you found it. Poachers use location information to target sites.
If you want help identifying a turtle you saw in the wild, reach out to a local nature center or your state wildlife agency.
4. Do your homework before buying a turtle
Familiarize yourself with state and national laws regarding the possession of domestic and wild turtle species where you live.
Consider the responsibility that comes with keeping a pet turtle. Because turtles are long lived animals – some live 50 years or more – they will require specialized care for decades.
If you are committed to a turtle, don’t shop, adopt. There is no way to be 100-percent certain a dealer is operating ethically, and there may be unwanted turtles in local shelters that need homes.
5. Don’t release pets
If you are no longer able to care for a pet turtle, don’t release it into the wild. It could transmit harmful diseases to wild populations, or outcompete native species.
Bring your pet turtle to an animal shelter, or consult your state wildlife agency or a wildlife rehabilitation center for help finding a new home for the animal.
6. Love turtles by protecting their homes
Learn what turtle species are native to your community. Visit zoos, nature centers, and refuges to find out about conservation efforts.
There may be opportunities to volunteer, or ways you can support native turtle habitat in your community or on your land. Clean up efforts in parks, woods, and along waterways are one simple way to help many kinds of wildlife.
Use these activities to teach students about threats to turtles, and how they can help:
- Save the bog turtle: Population game – Act as wildlife managers in charge of rare bog turtles.
- Where are the turtles? – Explore fluctuations in native turtle populations in response to threats.
- Turtle protector pledge – Commit to being a turtle protector.
Find more educational activity ideas in Rhode Island’s Scales and Slimes activity kit.
Share on social media:
#everyturtlecounts, #buyinformed, #keepturtleswild, #turtleconservation
Infographics and Brochures
Print out these infographics to distribute or post:
- Every turtle counts – We are losing our native turtles to the illegal trade. But you can help stop it.
- What you can do to protect turtles – When it comes to turtles, remember these “Do”s and “Don’t”s
- The truth about turtles – What to know before you buy
- Backyard guide to helping amphibians and reptiles – Ways to help turtles at home
- When turtles need help, call for backup – When to seek out professional help
Read more about the native turtle trafficking crisis, and what partners are doing to address it:
- Shell Game, Virginia Wildlife magazine, May/June 2021 – The illegal trade in freshwater turtles and tortoises is a bigger problem than many realize
- Loving turtles to death, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, May 2020 – Why one of most beloved types of wildlife is at grave risk from illegal collection, and what you can do to help
- Turtle, interrupted, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, August 2019 – An investigation revealed a Pennsylvania man had been illegally collecting and selling diamondback terrapins from New Jersey for years
- Where have all the turtles gone, and why does it matter?, BioScience, October 2018 – Why addressing threats to turtles is urgent
- Animals Matter: Turtles stolen from Colorado find new homes in Texas
- Shocking report details massive illegal turtle trade network
- Sustainable Trade in Turtles and Tortoises: North American Action Plan
- Turtles are being snatched from U.S. waters and illegally shipped to Asia
- International reptile trader found in storage shed
- Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles – 2018
National Turtle Networking Team Co-Chairs
Cristina A. Jones, Arizona: Cristina’s lifelong interest in reptiles was cultivated through the numerous hiking and camping trips throughout Arizona where her parents taught her that wildlife is wondrous and worthy of study. Her passion with turtles was ignited when she encountered her first Sonoran desert tortoise on a hike at age four, and began her fascination with natural history and conservation of desert reptiles. Cristina earned her B.S. in wildlife science and M.S. in wildlife ecology at the University of Arizona. For her M.S. thesis research, she evaluated the prevalence of Mycoplasma agassizii in wild and captive Sonoran desert tortoises in Arizona. In 2006, she accepted the position of Turtles Project Coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. As the lead of seven inter-agency/inter-organizational working groups, she collaborates with turtle biologists and citizen scientists within PARC, Desert Tortoise Council, and the Turtle Survival Alliance to identify, coordinate, and conduct priority research and implement conservation actions for turtles in Arizona and the southwest. Cristina is a co-chair, and a founding member, of SWPARC, serves as a Board Member at Large for the Desert Tortoise Council, and is an active member of the Turtle Survival Alliance Field Conservation and Conference Planning committees. Her professional goal is to maintain a position in turtle conservation and management which utilizes her knowledge, leadership, organizational skills, and enthusiasm to encourage and promote innovative ideas to assure the survival of viable populations of native turtle species throughout their range.
Noelle Rayman-Metcalf is an Endangered Species Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New York Field Office in Cortland. She has been with the Service since 2007, and her primary duties involve working on recovery of Threatened and Endangered Species and conducting environmental reviews of development projects throughout most of New York State. Most notably, she is the recovery lead for the northern population of bog turtle. Noelle received her Master’s degree in biology at Buffalo State College in 2010.
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