The solid shell of most adult turtles effectively deters predation by almost all species – but not humans. Human consumption of tortoises dates back to the days of Neanderthals.
But modern society has pressured turtle populations like never before.
Across Asia, tortoises and freshwater turtles continue to be collected for commercial export to China, where eating turtles is considered to have medicinal benefits. Collagen from turtle shells is becoming a sought-after ingredient in cosmetic products.
Turtles are also popular as pets. Particularly attractive or rare species can command high prices. Turtle farming can go some way to meet these demands, but as long as it is cheaper to collect and transport wild turtles than to produce them on farms, wild collection will continue – usually breaking protective laws if they exist.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about the illegal wildlife trade in freshwater turtles.
In addition, tortoises and freshwater turtles suffer from habitat degradation and loss in all its various forms. This includes deforestation, draining wetlands, converting clearwater rivers to stagnant multi-purpose reservoirs, and mortality on roads when turtles move around to feed and nest.
Finally, introduced invasive species impact turtles both directly and indirectly. Galapagos tortoises (Geochelone nigra), for example, are impacted by rats that eat their eggs and hatchlings and goats who compete for their food. And across the southern United states, invasive fire ants destroy turtle nests.