Tortoises and freshwater turtles

The problem


How you can help


© Chris R. Shepherd | TRAFFIC

Tackling the illegal and unsustainable trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles

Tortoises and freshwater turtles are heavily trafficked. Complex webs of transnational crime networks orchestrate the collection, laundering and shipment of illegally and unsustainably sourced tortoise and freshwater turtles into the global pet trade. Beyond trade for pets, tortoises and freshwater turtles are also collected for meat, eggs, and parts used to concoct traditional medicines and other products. This illegal and unsustainable trade is an immediate threat to many wild populations already on the brink due to other threats such as habitat loss and pollution.

The life history and the low survival rates of offspring mean that removing even a few individuals from the wild can lead to local population collapse. Consequently, collection for international trade can decimate wild populations before anyone even notices it is a problem. 

Although some species are protected under national laws, many remain unprotected and unmonitored. Currently, all tortoises and some freshwater turtles are listed on the appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the agreement between countries that regulates and monitors international trade, with the aim of ensuring that trade is conducted in a legal and sustainable manner. But lack of research on trade has impeded the protection of some species, despite concerning presence in trade. 

Among the most threatened species is the Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora. This critically endangered tortoise is endemic to Madagascar and is all but extinct in the wild, with less than 200 mature individuals left. Conservation breeding programmes and assurance colonies have been established to prevent total extinction, but more needs to be done urgently. Despite receiving the highest level of protection under CITES, demand for these incredibly rare tortoises continues. Traders and collectors are willing to pay high premiums to obtain them illegally, further fueling the demand for the last remaining Ploughshare Tortoises. The rarer a species becomes, the more targeted they become by criminal networks.

Monitor is committed to working with other like-minded organisations to protect the Ploughshare Tortoise and other threatened tortoises and freshwater turtles.

We need to take action!

Extinction is imminent for some tortoises and freshwater turtles, and the need to address this crisis is more urgent than ever. 

Monitor has conducted extensive research into the trade in several species, including the Indian Star Tortoise Goechelone elegans, Pig-nosed Turtle Carettochelys insculpta, Southeast Asian Box Turtle Cuora amboinensis and Philippine Forest Turtle Siebenrockiella leytensis.

Pig-nosed Turtle

© Chris R. Shepherd

Working with partners around the world, Monitor is dedicated to eliminating the illegal and unsustainable trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles, and to ensure none of these species are lost.

Our Projects

In response to the severe threats posed by the global trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles, these are some of our projects.


Monitor’s projects on TORTOISES AND FRESHWATER TURTLES include:

Trade in Southeast Asian Box Turtles from Indonesia: Legality, Livelihoods, Sustainability and Overexploitation

Illegal wildlife trade, seizures and prosecutions: A 7.5-year analysis of trade in pig-nosed turtles Carettochelys insculpta in and from Indonesia

Trade in Endangered and Critically Endangered Japanese herpetofauna endemic to the Nansei Islands warrants increased protection

An examination of the import of live reptiles from Indonesia by the United States from 2000 to 2015

Using intelligence to tackle the criminal elements of the illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises Geochelone elegans in Asia

Note on the availability of Philippine Forest Turtle Siebenrockiella leytensis in online reptile markets

There is much to do, and we need your help.

How you can support



If you witness tortoises or freshwater turtles in illegal trade or in someone’s possession


Encourage your government to better protect tortoises and freshwater turtles.


Donate to support our tortoise and freshwater turtle projects, every little bit helps!

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How you can help

Please consider making a donation to support 
this crucial work for wildlife.