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Analysis of a decade of trade of tortoises and freshwater turtles in Bangkok, Thailand

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Abstract

The illegal and unsustainable trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles in Asia is a clear impediment to their conservation, leading to steep population declines and what has become known as the Asian Turtle Crisis. We focus on the trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles for pets in one of Southeast Asia’s largest wildlife trading centres, the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand. Between November 2004 and December 2013 we surveyed Chatuchak 12 times, recording all species and quantities of tortoises and freshwater turtles openly for sale. In total, 2,667 individuals representing 55 species, were observed with 97 % of the individuals belonging to species not native to Thailand. African, South Asian and Southeast Asian species made up the largest numbers. The number of individuals recorded per survey ranged between 110 and 522 of between 11 and 24 species; species richness, species diversity and evenness did not show any clear temporal pattern. New species were added after new surveys suggesting a continual increasing supply of novel species. The most common species in trade over this period were Indian star tortoise Geochelone elegans (653 individuals), African spurred tortoise G. sulcata (536) and radiated tortoise Astrochelys radiata (320). Globally threatened species were observed during every survey, totalling 1,235 individuals of 20 species. These included Critically Endangered radiated tortoises and Burmese star tortoise G. platynota. Non-native CITES I listed species, i.e. species that should not be traded internationally, such as black spotted turtle Geoclemys hamiltonii from northeastern India and Bangladesh, were observed during all but one surveys, totalling 417 individuals of seven species. The observations of large numbers of species that had clearly entered the country illegally was clear evidence that unscrupulous traders are taking advantage of the loopholes in Thailand’s legislation. Legal reform in Thailand is urgently required, so that the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act can function as an effective piece of legislation to be used to bring an end to the illegal trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles in Thailand.

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Acknowledgments

We thank an anonymous donor for generously our work in Thailand, Matthew Todd for sharing his knowledge of the Thai reptile trade, and Serene Chng and an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments and suggestions for improvement.

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Correspondence to Vincent Nijman.

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Communicated by Dirk Sven Schmeller.

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Nijman, V., Shepherd, C.R. Analysis of a decade of trade of tortoises and freshwater turtles in Bangkok, Thailand. Biodivers Conserv 24, 309–318 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0809-0

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