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Declared Turtle Trade From the United States




The final page of this work is titled "Discussion" rather than "Conclusions" for a reason.  It is up to the readers to think on these data and reach their own conclusions.  It is a fact that in the just over three year span covered by these data that there were thirty-one million, seven hundred and eighty-three thousand, three hundred and eighty turtles declared exported from the United States.  31,783,380  -  That is a huge number of animals by anyone's scale of reference.   


While in the introduction we cited the 4 primary uses for turtles exported by the United States, this page is intended to offer a bit of  further digestion of the available data, incorporating other information available as well.


Western Europe and Japan:   Europe and Japan have much the same type of trade,  animals are imported in generally smaller lots destined for the pet markets.  While the ban imposed by the EU in 1997 on Trachemys scripta elegans has effectively stopped the imports of that subspecies to Western Europe, it has had little effect on the trade in North American species as a whole. It appears that importers switched over to Trachemys scripta scripta and Trachemys scripta troostii in the genus Trachemys and to Pseudemys and Graptemys species to supply that market. By way of example 92.7 % of the 1,184,970 total Trachemys scripta scripta and 96.4% of the 370,177 total Trachemys scripta troostii exported went to EU countries.  One of the major reasons given for the initial EU ban was fears that Red-ear sliders could become established in European waters and compete with the native species.   While there is some question as to whether the subspecies (T. s. elegans) could establish feral breeding colonies in Europe because of cooler and dryer summers, it should be noted that many thousands of specimens of other species are still arriving in Europe and that these species pose the same questions.  Japan,  which has a similar climate to much of Europe banned Chelydra in June of 2006  for the same reason, fear of a potentially invasive species. Yet Europe still allows Chelydra and Japan still allows Trachemys scripta elegans.  


Eastern EuropeThe trade into Eastern Europe appears to have picked up the Trachemys scripta elegans that used to go to EU nations.  Croatia, Russia and the Czech Republic (prior to 2004) in particular are importing large quantities of the subspecies.  While the names of importers and exporters are not divulged in this work it appears that the trade into Eastern Europe is dominated by just a few entities. 


China and Hong Kong:   These two destinations are combined because Hong Kong is a major transshipment point to the mainland. 47% of all turtles exported from the United States have  Hong Kong or China as a destination.  Observations in the markets indicate that a great many of these animals are being "grown out' prior to entering the food markets.  While the future ban on the import of turtles under 4 inches (10 cm) into China will hinder Chinese imports of American hatchlings, the establishment of Chinese breeding farms will, to a great extent, replace that part of the trade. 


Taiwan:   Nearly 20% of all U.S. turtle exports are to Taiwan. It is unclear to this author what the connection is between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan in this  arena is and what percentage of animals are being grown out in Taiwan for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) versus food market use.


Mexico:    The numbers of exports to Mexico were a surprise to this author.  It is likely that this ties in with other recent efforts to develop breeding farms in Central and South America for reptiles for re-export to the United States as well as the growing pet trade in Mexico itself. It is also possible that the sheer scale of this trade, 3,478,257 animals shipped into a country of 106 million people)  indicates ether Mexico as a transshipment point for hatchlings or a "grow out" point for turtles prior to shipment elsewhere. 11% of all turtle exports from the United States go to Mexico.  


Traffic in General:  Four countries:  China , Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mexico account for   78% of all turtle exports from the United States in raw numbers.  These same four countries account for only 27% of total shipments. This highlights the differences in the scale and types of trade with these countries.  By way of contrast  Germany Korea, Great Britain and Japan account for a much higher percentage of shipments, 44% but a much lower percentage of the total trade, only 6.6%. This comparison indicates the differences of scale between the pet trade and the food market trade.


Decline in Exports:   It has been posited by many that the decline in total exports in 2004 and 2005 is a result of the establishment of breeding farms in Asia and their assumption of part of the total turtle production for food markets use.  This may very well be true,  the drop from 14.6 million in 2003 to 11.9 million in 2004 to 4.5 million in the first eleven months of 2005 is considerable and noteworthy.   It has also been posited that a reason for the decline is a loss in popularity of turtles as a food source.  It should also be noted that the years 2004 and 2005 were record breaking years for hurricanes effecting the Southeastern United States.  2004 saw hurricanes hitting South Florida repeatedly, and the devastation in 2005 strongly effected both Louisiana and Texas which are home to many domestic turtle farms.   How much is weather and how much is an assumption of the production by foreign producers or a drop-off in demand is unclear at this time. In addition numbers are recorded by hand (keystroke) into the system resulting in a data lag. For this reason the 2005 data should be viewed as possibly incomplete. The future will help to determine this more fully any decline in the trade. Based on observations by Peter Paul van Dijk there is no indication of a drop-off in demand for turtles for consumption (pers. comm. 20/03/2006)    


In Closing:  It is hoped that the presentation of the data in this work as well as the manner of its presentation will prompt discussion and the development of an informed and nuanced opinion by the reader. If we have made you think,  the time spent in preparing this will have been well worth the effort.    



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