The United States, in a conservation victory Friday, won the approval of an international wildlife summit for stronger protections for endangered freshwater tortoises and turtles.
Working with China and Vietnam, a U.S. delegation that included Fish and Wildlife director Daniel Ashe persuaded international wildlife officials to protect 47 species of tortoises and turtles in Asia and the United States by banning the commercial trade of some and placing quotas on the sale of others.
More than half the world's freshwater tortoises and turtles face extinction, yet they are hunted for food, pets and trinkets made from their shells, mostly in Asia. Turtles are also killed by urban sprawl, boats and crab traps, particularly in Texas and Maryland and other gulf and mid-Atlantic states. Crab bait also lures turtles.
The adoption of one of the Obama administration's top priorities at the wildlife summit in Bangkok — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — came on the heels of the defeat of a proposal to add protections for polar bears.
Officials adopted a proposal from Vietnam and the United States to transfer big-headed Asian turtles from a protection category that allows commercial trade under a quota to one that bans it. Another turtle species, the Roti Island snake-neck turtle, was kept in the category that allows commercial trade under a quota, but the quota for the export of such turtles caught in the wild was lowered to zero.
The protections for Asian turtles all but ensure that traders will target freshwater turtles in the United States. To head that off, the United States proposed to list three native species: the spotted turtle, Blanding's turtles and the diamondback terrapin. The convention put the three species in the category that allows commercial trade, but with a strict limit to protect them from being over-harvested.