Wildlife trafficking has become such a major problem that conservationists are warning that many species are now at risk of extinction due to it. Not only that, but experts warn that wildlife trafficking increases the risk of “zoonotic” diseases jumping from animals to humans.
The year currently winding down wasn’t just a tough one for us, but also for most creatures on Earth, due to increasing threats. You can assume conservationists have their work cut out for 2021, especially given how an ever-increasing number of animals is threatened by extinction (and the threats aren’t always clear-cut).
That said, it is no surprise that the Center for Biological Diversity sounded a Dec. 18 alarm in the form of a news release over the diamondback terrapin and revealed a new report that talks about trafficking.
This terrapin turtle is one of 10 species highlighted by the Center that are falling in numbers and even disappearing from some areas in its habitat. The report from the Endangered Species Coalition notes that “Wildlife trafficking is a lucrative business, raking in an estimated $7 to $23 billion every year.”
Eggs for life
The terrapins have always had their problems — being hit by cars or drowning in crab traps — but trade and trafficking are posing significant threats. Only a small number of eggs hatch and survive to adulthood, so it is important for adult terrapins to live long lives and have the opportunity to lay many eggs, said the report, “Trafficked: 10 Species Threatened by the Wildlife Trade.”
Yes, these small turtles are cute. No, they should not be your home’s trinkets or menu items for foodies.
“Through the mid-1800s into the 20th century, terrapin soup surged in popularity in the United States,” said the ‘Trafficked’ report, “resulting in staggering harvests. While that soup largely disappeared from dinner tables, the terrapin’s population never rebounded.”
The turtles have speckled skin and they get their name from their diamond patterned shells. They are the only turtles in the world living exclusively in semi-salty waters of estuaries. “It is thought to be a keystone species in those ecosystems,” said the Center.
“Terrapins eat small fish and invertebrates with relatively soft shells, like aquatic snails and fiddler crabs,” notes the Trafficked report, adding that Females often have stronger jaws and can eat hard-shelled mollusks. These terrapins play an important ecosystem role as they are top predators in estuaries and are therefore crucial in protecting salt marsh ecosystem functions.
Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, commented that given its importance, “Wildlife officials should end wild trapping and crack down on traffickers to ensure a bright future for this rare little turtle.”
Trapping for trade
Some poachers snatching up wild terrapins have indeed been apprehended by wildlife officials. Several states have taken action, though, either to protect the terrapins against commercial trade or to put an end to commercial terrapin trapping — but much more is needed to ensure that their numbers don’t continue to dwindle.
The matter is all the more ironic since humans, an intelligent and highly developed species, don’t need terrapins or their eggs for sustenance, so why would a human need to snatch animals from their natural habitats? That is a question for exploring in other essays, but at least the Endangered Species Coalition provides a report overview that sums up where the world stands in terms of threats to species.
Several listed in the report are part of a global pet trade. Examples are the yellow-headed parrot and the Tokay gecko. Then there are the people who seek the animals out for food or medicinal reasons like the scalloped hammerhead shark, pinto abalone, and the pangolin. Thirdly, there are the attention seekers who desire “collectables,” including the Venus flytrap and the rufous hummingbird.