Turtles in Trouble
More than a third of the world's freshwater turtles are threatened with extinction. All seven species of sea turtles are endangered.
Turtles are collected for pets, food, and folk medicine; their shells are sold as aphrodisiacs; their habitats are disappearing; and pollutants contaminate their eggs. Sea turtles face the additional threats of marine debris, collisions with ships, and becoming entangled in fishing nets and other equipment.
End of the Line?
Freshwater turtles have existed for nearly 300 million years.
Ironically, many traits that made them an evolutionary success—like long lifespans and slow reproduction—make them vulnerable to human pressures today.
Fealing the Heat
As turtles feel the heat of climate change, they could go the way of the dinosaurs. Most turtles have environmental sex determination—the temperature during an egg's incubation determines whether the turtle will be male or female. A global temperature increase of just a few degrees could eliminate males of many turtle species, and then the species themselves.
Turtle conservation comes in a variety of forms. International agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and state and federal laws, such as the United States' Endangered Species Act, offer protection to dozens of turtle species and their habitats. Nonprofit organizations' protective measures include: working with villagers to curb egg and turtle collection, restoring wetlands, raising public awareness, and attaching satellite-tracking devices to sea turtles so that we can learn more about their migration.
National Zoo scientists have been involved in tracking olive Ridley and green sea turtles, monitoring and assessing turtle health, and contributing to international treaty development.
Danger Ahead: People!
Living close to people can be dangerous for many animals. Enlarge this picture of a forest scene to see if you can identify the danger spots for box turtles, which are native to the East Coast and some Midwest states. They may live more than 100 years.
Danger Spots in the Forest Scene
Squares link to animal fun facts.