Intensive collection threatens peculiar Pig-nosed Turtle in Papua, Indonesia
Saturday, October 4, 2014 at 0:05
TRAFFIC in CBD, CITES, Herpetological, In Australasia, Pets & fashion

Pig-nosed Turtle: heavily traded for food, pets and as medicine © Ron Lilley Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 4th October 2014—Intensive illegal collection of the Vulnerable Pig-nosed Turtle for the pet, food and traditional medicine trades has reached alarming levels, a new TRAFFIC report has found.

The sole existing member of the once widespread Carettochelyidae family, the Pig-nosed Turtle Carettochelys insculpta is suffering the combined impacts of high international demand, organized global wildlife trade and poor enforcement in Papua province, Indonesia, where TRAFFIC’s study was centred.  A 2011 study of Pig-nosed Turtles in Papua found that populations there were suffering severe declines due to overharvesting.

The latest study found that Pig-nosed Turtle eggs are collected from river banks by villagers, who incubate them in hatcheries before selling the juvenile turtles into the global traditional medicine and pet trades. Such operations are not legitimate “captive-breeding” enterprises as the eggs are illegally collected from the wild.

An estimated 1.5 to 2 million eggs are collected each year, although the authors believe current figures may be considerably higher and are continuing to rise, according to their report Assessing The Trade In Pig-Nosed Turtles Carettochelys insculpta in Papua, Indonesia (PDF, 2 MB), released on World Animal Day.

The Pig-nosed Turtle is protected under national legislation and is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which restricts international trade in wild-caught individuals. 

Villagers previously collected the turtles for subsistence food but now do so to generate income—a shift encouraged by traders who offer financial rewards or barter exchanges for the turtles, and who often co-ordinate egg-collecting trips along remote rivers using motorboats.

Minimal enforcement at the source has allowed such practices to continue unhindered and led to exploitation of turtle populations even along remote waterways. 

International demand for the turtles is also reportedly increasing. Survey respondents spoke of companies drying and grinding the turtles into powder to supply traditional medicine markets in China and Hong Kong and of the growing online marketplace for live Pig-nosed Turtles.

Over 30 seizures amounting to more than 80,000 individual Pig-nosed Turtles took place between 2003 and 2013. They included a massive single seizure in 2009 of 12,247 Pig-nosed Turtles in Timika, Papua. More recently, 8,368 animals were discovered in several suitcases in connected seizures in Papua and Jakarta in January 2014.

“Urgent enforcement action in Papua province targeting middlemen operating in rural communities is needed,” said Dr Chris Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in South-East Asia.

“We also recommend monitoring ports such as Agats, Merauke, Timika, Jayapura and Jakarta, and increasing enforcement at international points of the trade chain in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, mainland China and Hong Kong.”

In addition, the report recommends community-led awareness programmes and efforts to address socio-economic issues that drive the illegal trade in this distinctive but imperiled species.

This report comes ahead of deliberations at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at its 12th  Conference of the Parties to assess whether the world is on track to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a means to assess progress against the CBD’s Strategic Plan till 2020.

TRAFFIC is a member of the “Friends of Target 12” partnership to assist countries in their efforts to achieve Target 12—which aims to prevent further extinctions of threatened species and improve the conservation status of those disappearing most rapidly.


1. The Pig-nosed Turtle Carettochelys insculpta, also known as the Fly River Turtle, is found only in northern Australia and southern New Guinea, which is divided politically between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Papua province, Indonesia.

2. Assessing The Trade In Pig-Nosed Turtles Carettochelys insculpta in Papua, Indonesia (PDF, 2 MB)

Article originally appeared on TRAFFIC (
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