Plight of the Critically
Endangered Giant Amazon Turtle
care about turtles?
Turtles are unique ancient animals that have existed for over 250
million years. Despite this long history, recent human exploitation
of turtles (especially for food and oil) has caused their populations
to decline precipitously worldwide. About 42%
of all turtle species are currently threatened with extinction. This global turtle decline
phenomenon is so serious that experts believe that without strong
conservation action many species of turtles will become extinct in
the next decades.
While efforts to save sea turtles have become widely supported by
the public, the plight of freshwater turtles goes largely unnoticed.
This is especially concerning because freshwater turtles are important
biodiversity components of ecosystems. Turtles play important roles
in nutrient cycling; t hey are important dispersers of seeds in riverine
forests, and they are sources of food for other animals. Their extinction
could cause the environment to degrade in serious ways we cannot
Human use of turtles is especially problematic, because hunters
target breeding females and their eggs, which leaves turtles little
chance to reproduce. Female turtles are easily collected live in
large numbers while they are nesting on sandy beaches. They are simply
flipped on to their backs and collected at leisure, and their eggs
are easily sighted and collected. In the Amazon, where giant river
turtles (up to a meter in length) were historically observed migrating
in the hundreds of thousands, endangered turtles are now rarely spotted.
And people continue to hunt them.
Finally, like polar bears, river turtles are susceptible to climate
change . Climate change can affect river levels, which in turn affects
turtles. River turtles depend on seasonal fluctuations of rivers
to expose their nesting beaches in the dry season. If rivers fail
to lower or flood too soon, turtles have nowhere to lay their eggs,
and nests are flooded before they can hatch. In the Amazon we have
observed large numbers of turtle nests (up to 100% on many beaches)
flooded before eggs could hatch. More research is needed to monitor
the effects of climate change on these endangered animals.