Turtle Farming's Dangerous US Impact

Diamondback terrapin populations are declining in Maryland to satisfy demand in China.Diamondback terrapin populations are declining in Maryland to satisfy demand in China.

Turtles are a popular ingredient in many Chinese meals and Traditional Chinese Medicine products. Though a number of scientific studies document that it is impossible to kill a turtle humanely, over 20 million turtles are consumed in China each year. To meet this demand, the country is home to more than 1,000 turtle farms.

While farmed turtles suffer just as much as wild turtles when killed, turtle farming is believed to be a means of saving Asia's wild turtle populations. In the February 2007 issue of Conservation Biology, however, scientists report that turtle farmers are purchasing wild-caught turtles to improve their breeding stock, placing a new significant pressure on China's turtle species, almost all of which are threatened. To make matters worse, some farmers are operating illegal turtle laundering operations, selling wild-caught turtles marked as being farm-raised.

Unfortunately, China's appetite for the animals is now threatening turtles in the United States. According to the World Chelonian Trust, more than 700,000 wild-caught US turtles were exported from 2003 to 2005, with most going to Asian turtle farms and markets. In Maryland, the diamondback terrapin population is declining—reportedly to satisfy China's taste for turtle. This sad reality has forced the state to ban the capture of wild terrapins.

In Texas, hundreds of thousands of turtles are being trapped each year to be exported to Asia. According to US Fish and Wildlife Service data, 256,638 turtles were exported from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport alone between 2002 and 2005. This relentless collection recently prompted Texas A&M University professor Dr. Larry Fitzgerald to tell the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission that, "the worldwide crisis in turtles is creating a large sucking sound from those areas that still have animals." In response to this threat, the Commission has approved a proposed ban on the commercial collection of all turtles.