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Saturday, 4 December, 1999, 17:33 GMT
Asian turtle crisis
turtle Turtles are threatened by the trade in their meat and shells

By BBC correspondent Caroline Gluck in Cambodia

Environmentalists meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh have warned that dozens of species of turtles in Asia are in danger of extinction unless action is taken to protect them.

They warned that the trade in turtles in the region had become so huge that more than 65% were at risk, possibly leading to a biodiversity crisis.

Sixteen countries participated in the talks, which were jointly organised by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund and Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring organisation.

Multi-million dollar delicacy

The trade in turtles has become a multi-million dollar business.

Ten thousand tonnes, around 10 million animals, are traded in South-east Asia every year.

Nearly 90% of the animals - which are shipped, transported by road, or even by air - end up in southern China, where turtle meat is considered a delicacy and the shells are used in traditional medicine.

Although several countries ban the trade in turtles or in specific species, law enforcement is lax and officials are poorly trained.

It is estimated that there are nearly 90 species of fresh water turtles and tortoises in Asia, one of the most diverse regions in the world for these reptiles.

Extinction

But around 75% of them are now threatened with extinction because of the huge trade.

Many of the turtles, which are shipped live, are packed tightly into crates and die on the journey.

Delegates at the meeting are hoping to get more species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, to offer them better protection.

They say there needs to be more publicity about the threat to the animals, and better efforts to provide alternative sources of income for some of the poorest people who catch them for export.

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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  Business
Technocrats versus Turtles
30 Nov 99 |  Americas
Tourism protects Surinam's turtles
27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
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20 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
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01 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Aboriginals fight turtle fishing ban
09 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
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