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Declared1 Turtle Trade From the United States - Darrell Senneke


(Sincere thanks to some very special friends for their direction in the creation of this work as well as their determination and perseverance in obtaining these data) 


Copyright 2006 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved

In several locations on this web site we discuss various types of markets and attempt to  show the magnitude of the trade in chelonia.   These pages offer an extensive view into the Animal Markets of China, into the The Turtle Pet Trade in Jakarta  and a  glimpse of turtles used for bushmeat in Two Turtles from Western Democratic Republic of the Congo.  


There is a tendency by those in the Western world to view the world markets in chelonia as either an "Eastern" or a "third world" phenomenon. This tends to give residents of the West a reputation for being somewhat arrogant about the turtle trade as many view this as a problem that other countries create, while we try to "repair the damage" or "save the animals".  No attitude could be further from the truth, quite literally we are all in this together.    Thirty-one million, seven hundred and eighty-three thousand, three hundred and eighty turtles were declared exports from the United States in just over three years. 31,783,380;  This is a huge number by anyone's frame of reference.   


Through a series of Freedom of Information  (FOIA) requests we have obtained the numbers of declared chelonian exports of native species, both captive born and wild caught, from the United States from the Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) for the time period between November 04, 2002 and November 26, 20052. In addition to this, the ports of export in the United States as well as importing counties will be listed. We find these data to be compelling enough that the decision was made to devote a section of this web site to it. It should be stressed that these numbers only reflect live declared trade;  Assumptions of illegal trade or deceased animals possibly exported as meat or fish are not included in these pages. 


Animals exported from the United States have four primary destinations. The first is directly to the food markets of China and Southeast Asia.  The second is to Asian turtle farms where the majority are "grown out",  much like our cattle feed lots, and then sent to the markets; 3a,3b the third is for breeding stock in turtle farms; and the fourth is for the huge pet markets around the world. 


Arguments can be made both for and against this trade.  Some people opine that the shipment and sales of American species produced in large numbers actually save endangered foreign species by taking their place in the food and pet markets. Others argue that the shipment and subsequent release of American species do tremendous damage to the ecology of countries around the globe with breeding colonies of high fecundity American turtles competing with possibly endangered native species. Still other people will argue that there is no such thing as an ethically acceptable trade in turtles whatsoever.   We will make no value judgment in these pages,  the data are presented as received and it will be up to the reader to decide for him or herself the ethics of this trade.  The purpose of this series of pages is to point out that the trade in chelonia is not something only happening someplace else, it is intended to evoke thought and discussion, not to support or condemn this trade.  For this reason the final page of this work is titled "Discussion" rather than "Conclusions".  It is up to the readers to think on these data and reach their own conclusions.    


The data was tabulated as could best be done with the information at hand. Some animals were listed by as many as three different names. In those cases the numbers were totaled.  Others were listed by only their Genus names. In those cases a representative of the Genus was used for photos and the data presented "as is". The layout of this work will be as follows. 

1 -  The term "declared" is used throughout this document,  animals are "declared" in shipping documentation. Items that are declared in passing through customs may or may not have accurate documentation and do not reflect legality i.e.. for example items shipped under fraudulent documentation could possibly be passed through customs but may not be legal or the documentation may not reflect the true contents. These data are received as "declared shipping" and will be presented in that light.  


2 - Numbers are recorded by hand (keystroke) into the LEMIS resulting in a data lag. For this reason the 2005 data should be viewed as possibly incomplete.


3a - Peter Paul van Dijk - pers. comm.)


World Chelonian Trust

PO Box 1445

Vacaville, CA



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