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Friday
Mar082013

Rare turtle sets Japanese precedent

The Ryukyu Black-breasted Leaf Turtle is the subject of Japan's first ever listing proposal to CITES © Taku SakodBangkok, Thailand, 8th March 2013—Japan is asking the world’s governments to help protect the Ryukyu Black-breasted Leaf Turtle, a rare turtle found on only three small islands in the Okinawa group.

The turtle has been proposed by the Japanese Government for listing in Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) following the discovery of its availability in international trade in mainland China, Hong Kong and online. It is the first time Japan has submitted such a proposal to CITES, which is currently meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

At home, under Japanese law, the Ryukyu Black-breasted Leaf Turtle is designated a “natural monument” and cannot be captured, transferred or traded without permission from the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs.

But the appearance of the species in the pet trade outside Japan strongly suggests illegal activity is taking place. If governments at CITES choose to accept the Japanese listing proposal, it would see the Ryukyu Black-breasted Leaf Turtle gain better protection against potential illegal international trade.

The proposal arose after TRAFFIC market surveys had raised the alarm following the discovery of small numbers of protected endemic Japanese reptiles in the Asian pet trade. They included 31 Ryukyu Black-breasted Leaf Turtle in two shops in Hong Kong, while two further shops plus one in Guangzhou told TRAFFIC that they received orders for the species.

Also observed for sale were Ryukyu Yellow-margined Box Turtle, Kishinoue’s Giant Skink and Kiroiwa’s Ground Gecko, all reptiles endemic to Japan.

The two turtles and gecko were also found for retail on Chinese-language websites. Some of the animals were accompanied by declarations stating they were wild-caught, in direct violation of Japanese domestic regulations.

The full findings were made public today in a new report: Trade in Japanese Endemic Reptiles in China and Recommendations for Species Conservation (PDF, 4.5 MB)

The report’s chief recommendation had been for the Japanese government to consider the merit of submitting proposals to list the reptiles in the CITES Appendices.

“The proposal to list the Ryukyu Black-breasted Leaf Turtle is a small but significant step for Japan,” said Kahoru Kanari, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC and an author of the report.

“We hope it signals Japan’s intention to place more importance on the conservation of wild species found in international trade.”

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