While you may have heard of the age-old tradition that many Americans partake in every year – heading out into the forest on Thanksgiving Day to hunt a wild turkey – you may be less familiar with a similar practice that happens just south of the United States in Central America. Except instead of a wild turkey, it’s the Central American River Turtle. And instead of heading out on foot, hunters require a chartered plane to reach the remote wetlands where the turtles live. But the end result is the same: a holiday meal featuring a culturally symbolic animal. Though it may be hard for you to imagine eating a giant turtle, it happens all over the world – and unfortunately for turtles – at an alarming rate.
Human consumption is one of the major threats to freshwater turtles and
tortoises. Along with habitat destruction and invasive species, the
cultural practice has lead to a threat of extinction for nearly half of
the 350 species that exist today. That makes them among the most
threatened of any major group of vertebrate species – more than birds,
mammals, or amphibians.
makes turtles special? For you history buffs out there, they represent a
lineage dating back to the dawn of the age of dinosaurs. They also
perform a variety of important tasks in freshwater ecosystems such as
rivers, streams, and lakes including:
∙ seed dispersal and vegetation management
∙ control of insect and snail populations
∙ keeping water clean for all animals – including humans – by
scavenging dead animals and preying on weak or sick individuals.
Conservation International goes into more depth about why turtles are sought after, the illegal
wildlife trade in freshwater turtles, as well as the threats of habitat
destruction and invasive species. You can also check out pictures and
information about the ten most endangered freshwater turtles.
Luckily, efforts are being made to decrease the number of turtles hunted
around the world. Conservation International in particular is
advocating for stronger enforcement of CITES (the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) rules
in Asian countries. Asian consumers and diners are also being targeted
in hopes that providing education on species endangerment and the health
risks of eating wildlife will curb turtle consumption rates in Asian
How can you help? Conservation International has a petition to “Stop the Clock” on species extinction. Sign it today!