Skip to Content

Endangered Turtles

Turtles are among some of the most endangered vertebrates on the planet. In fact, more than half of all turtle species have threatened conservation statuses.

According to many biologists, turtles are in trouble. Threats to turtles include overharvesting (collection for trade or food & traditional medicine), pollution (such as oil spills), trash (such as plastics), and destruction of their habitat.

Endangered turtle species include marine turtles, freshwater turtles (sometimes referred to as terrapins), and terrestrial turtles. Listed species will not include tortoises.

Endangered Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are among the most endangered animals in the world. They are faced with many threats that negatively affect their wild population.

Threats to sea turtles include overharvesting and pollution caused by discarded fishing hooks, lines, and nets as well as chemicals and trash. Only one sea turtle isn’t considered endangered on the IUCN Red List and this is the flatback.

What are sea turtles? Sea turtles consist of seven turtle species which include the Green Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, and Hawksbill Sea Turtle. Unlike other turtles, these marine reptiles inhabit the oceans.

Table of Contents

  1. Sea Turtles
    1. Critically Endangered
    2. Endangered
    3. Vulnerable
  2. Freshwater Turtles
    1. Clinically Endangered
    2. Endangered
  3. FAQ
  4. Conclusion

Sea Turtles

Critically Endangered 

1. Green Turtle

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia Mydas)
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia Mydas)
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Range Adult Size: 39.37 to 47.24 inches
  • Lifespan: 75 years

Diet in the Wild: (primarily carnivorous as juveniles but omnivorous as adults) fish eggs, jellyfish mollusks, worms, crustaceans, algae, seagrass, api api, and salt-water cordgrass.

The green sea turtles inhabit the subtropical and tropical seas and coastline beaches. They are endemic mainly in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The green sea turtle’s carapace is blackish to olive in color. However, found beneath this chelonian’s carapace is green fat which gives the species its common name.

Main Threats: The main threats to the species include poaching, hunting, and the overharvesting of the turtle’s eggs. Pollution and environmental degradation also contribute to the ever-declining wild populations.

Conservation Efforts: The green sea turtle has been listed on the IUCN Red List as an endangered species. They have also been listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

As such, the trade of specimens of the species is prohibited except upon approval of import and export permits. The turtle is also protected under United States Federal laws.

2. Kemp’s Ridley 

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys Kempii) resting on beach by Mike Oldham
Kemps Ridley Sea turtle resting on beach – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Lepidochelys kempii
  • Range Adult Size: 23 to 28 inches 
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years 

Diet in the Wild: as juveniles mainly crabs, jellyfish, seaweed, mollusks, fish, worms, crustaceans, and algae.

The Kemp’s ridley is the most endangered sea turtle in the world and the rarest as well. Found in the Atlantic, this turtle is also known as the Atlantic ridley sea turtle. L. olivacea is endemic from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in Canada to Bermuda.

These turtles mainly nest in the Gulf of Mexico. They migrate seasonally to the Yucatan Peninsula at the Campeche Bank and the Mississippi coastline.

Main Threats: The main threats to the wild population of this turtle include accidental entanglement in shrimping nets, habitat loss, and pollutants such as oil spills.

Conservation Efforts: Kemp’s ridley has been listed on the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species. They are also listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are protected under United States Federal laws – Endangered Species Act.

They have also been listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As such, the trade of this turtle is prohibited. Since the mid-1990s, the number of Kemp‘s Ridley nests found on the Texas Coast has been on the rise.

3. Hawksbill

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming around some coral in Montijo, Panama
A Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming around some coral in Montijo, Panama. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Range Adult Size: 24.61 to 44.88 inches 
  • Lifespan: 20+ years 

Diet in the Wild: cnidarians, jellyfish, seaweed, mollusks, fish, aquatic worms, aquatic crustaceans, macroalgae, and algae.

The hawksbill is quite large, being capable of growing to lengths of 45 inches. As a critically endangered species, the hawksbill is on the verge of extinction. They is endemic in the Atlantic (E. i. imbricata) and Indo-Pacific oceans (E. i. bissa).

Main Threats: The main threat to the wild populations is poaching. Due to the hawksbill turtle being a delicacy in many coastal communities where the turtle is endemic, the wild populations have been overharvested. This exploitation has negatively affected the wild population and the species are on the verge of extinction.

Conservation Efforts: The hawksbill is listed on the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species. They have also been listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As such the trade of this turtle is prohibited.

Endangered Sea Turtles

4. Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) beached on the sand in Trinidad and Tobago
A Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) beached on the sand in Trinidad and Tobago. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Range Adult Size: 57.09 to 62.99 inches 
  • Lifespan: 30 years 

Diet in the Wild: (carnivorous) cnidarians, jellyfish, zooplankton, mollusks, fish, aquatic worms, and aquatic crustaceans.

The leatherback is listed as endangered under the ESA. However, under the IUCN, the species are listed as vulnerable although several subpopulations are critically endangered such as the East Pacific Ocean subpopulation. The leatherback is easily identified by its leathery carapace.

Main Threats: The main threats to the wild populations include accidental capture in fishing gear or bycatch. Pollution caused by oil spills and trash has also been identified as a contributing factor in the decline of the wild populations. Plastic bags and balloons can cause intestinal blockage and malabsorption since these resemble jellyfish that the leatherback eats.

Conservation Efforts: The leatherback is listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species. However, it is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as an endangered species and is protected under United States Federal laws – Endangered Species Act. The turtle is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Vulnerable Sea Turtles

5. Loggerhead Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming among a school of fish off Ionian Islands, Greece
A Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming among a school of fish off Ionian Islands, Greece. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Caretta caretta
  • Range Adult Size: 32 to 40 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 62 years

Diet in the Wild: (omnivorous) mainly bottom-dwelling invertebrates, turtles, fish eggs & fish, starfish, jellyfish, sea cucumbers, mollusks, sand dollars, sea urchins, worms, crustaceans, vascular plants, and algae

C. caretta is found all over the world and in almost every ocean. C. caretta populations found in temperate regions migrate to the subtropics and the tropics during the winter months.

Main Threats: The main threats to the wild population of the C. caretta include accidental capture in fishing gear. Other threats include humans disturbing the nests and the nesting process of the species as well as human developments at the beaches where the turtle nests. Pollutants such as oil spills and trash also contribute to the decline in the wild populations.

Conservation Efforts: C. caretta is listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species and as an endangered species on the ESA (the Endangered Species Act) listing. They have also been listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

As with the green sea turtle, the trade of specimens of C. caretta is prohibited except under the approval of import and export permits. C. caretta is also protected under United States Federal laws – Endangered Species Act and Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

6. Olive’s Ridley Turtle

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) coming up the the surface in Baja California Sur, Mexico
An Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) coming up the the surface in Baja California Sur, Mexico – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Lepidochelys Oliveii
  • Range Adult Size: 24 inches

Diet in the Wild: (primarily carnivorous) crabs, jellyfish, rock lobsters, mollusks, shrimp, fish and fish eggs, worms, snails, sea urchins, and crustaceans

The Olive’s ridley is endemic in the tropics and subtropics of the Indian, Pacific, and southern Atlantic oceans. This turtle prefers the shallow water and spends most of its days feeding & sunbathing.

Main Threats: the main threats to the wild population of this turtle include accidental entanglement in shrimping nets, habitat loss, and pollution such as oil spills.

Conservation Efforts: Olive’s ridley has been listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species. Although the species isn’t technically endangered, it is still at risk. They are also listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. 

Freshwater Turtles

Many freshwater turtles are considered endangered. Most of the critically endangered freshwater turtle species are endemic to East Asia where the large-scale consumption of turtles is high. The over-collection of many species has left the populations decimated and disjointed.

Critically Endangered

7. Assam Roofed Turtle

Assam Roofed Turtle (Pangshura sylhetensis) on a log at Kurhati, Assam, India
An Assam Roofed Turtle (Pangshura sylhetensis) on a log at Kurhati, Assam, India. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Binomial Name: Pangshura sylhetensis
  • Carapace Length: 3.9 to 7.3 inches (10 to 18.5 cm)
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

This is a rare turtle species endemic to India. The species is known to reach a carapace length of 8 inches although the expected cara[ace length is 4 to 7.3 inches. The carapace of the species is olive-gray/brown while the plastron is yellowish with dark spots. There is a yellow stripe from the back of the species’ head to its lower jaw.

P. sylhetensis has a high dome.

Currently, the species is endemic in Bhutan and India. The species may be found in Myanmar (Burma), although this remains to be confirmed.

Main Threats:  The main threat that the species face is overharvesting for human consumption (for local subsistence consumption). Another major threat is habitat degradation due to siltation, erosion, and others. Because of the rarity of the species, it is highly sought after in the high-end pet trade market.

An adult female is known to cost as high as $10,000 as of 2018. P. sylhetensis has a fragmented distribution which affects the wild population numbers.

Conservation Efforts: Pangshura sylhetensis is in the CITES Appendix II. The species is also protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, specifically Schedule I of the Act.

The species is protected in the Manas tiger reserve, Nameri wildlife sanctuary, & Dibru-Saikhowa Wildlife sanctuary in Assam; and Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary in Mizoram and Pakhui. The eggs of the species have also been collected and artificially incubating the eggs in conservation efforts to increase wildlife populations.

8. Chinese Three-striped Box Turtle

Chinese Three-striped Box Turtle (Cuora trifasciata) walking through wood chips taken by the Internet Archive Book Image
A Chinese Three-striped Box Turtle (Cuora trifasciata) walking through wood chips taken by the Internet Archive Book Image. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Binomial Name: Cuora trifasciata
  • Carapace Length: 9.4 inches (24 cm)
  • Diet in the Wild: Fish, frogs, crabs, carrion, snails, insects
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

The species is endemic to China. The Chinese three-striped box turtle’s historic geographic range comprised southern China – Hainan province, Hong Kong, and from Fujian through Guangdong to Guangxi.

Currently, the species’ wild population inhabits Hainan province and Hong Kong. Biologists believe that the Hong Kong wild population was introduced to Hong Kong through trade.

People often confuse the species with Cuora cyclornata. Both are species of the same genus although C. cyclornata is endemic to northern Viet Nam.

Main Threats:  the species is among the world’s most commercially valuable turtles. The species is the target of illegal trade which harvests the turtle for consumption, pet trade, and aquaculture. During the 1980s, the jelly extract from the species was used to treat cancer as it was believed to be a cancer cure.

Other threats include the degradation of the habitats of the species caused by irrigation and the construction of dams. These constructions (man-made alterations to the habitats) lead to siltation, erosion, and destruction of hill forests flanking the stream habitats of the species.

Conservation Efforts:  CITES includes the species in Appendix II. The Chinese government lists the species in National Protected Wild Animal Category II. This means that persons require permission from provincial governments to collect the turtle.

In Hong Kong, the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation in collaboration with Botanic Garden and Kadoorie Farm implement a conservation program for the species. The species is listed in Annex B of the European Union Commission Regulation.

9. McCord’s Box Turtle

MCcords box turtle (Cuora_mccordi)
McCords Box turtle out in the wild in shallow water – source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Geoemydidae 
  • Binomial Name: Cuora mccordi
  • Carapace Length: 5.5 to 7.2 inches (14 to 18 cm)
  • Population Trend: Unknown

The McCord’s Box turtle is believed to be extinct in the wild although it is currently listed as critically endangered. No wild specimens have been recorded since 2010. Very little is known about the species in the wild and available information on C. mccordi is from captive-bred species. There are believed to be less than 1000 captive-bred McCord’s box turtles.

The species is endemic to the Guangxi province in china. The species is semi-aquatic and lives in bamboo patches in broad-leaved forests.

Main Threats:  the main threat the species face is the collection of the species for the internal pet trade and human consumption. Also, habitat loss due to non-native reforestation and logging is another major threat to C. mccordi.

Conservation Efforts:  C. mccordi is included in CITES Appendix II. The species is listed in Annex B of the European Union Commission Regulation.

10. Pan’s Box Turtle

Pan's Box Turtle (Cuora pani) in a tank taken by Cuora at English Wiki
Pan’s Box Turtle (Cuora pani) in a tank taken by Cuora – source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Geoemydidae 
  • Binomial Name: Cuora pani
  • Carapace Length: 4.1 to 7.7 inches (10.5 to 19.5 cm)
  • Population Trend: Unknown

Little is known about this critically endangered turtle species. It is known to be endemic to Hubei, Sichuan, and Shaanxi provinces in china. You can find this species in fast-moving streams of the  Yangtze River System found in the Qin Mountain range. Within its habitat temperatures can fall as low as -20 degrees celsius or -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cuora pani has a brown carapace and a greenish-yellow head. It is moderately sized.

There are an estimated 100 to 1000 wild specimens remaining in the world which makes the species critically endangered.

Main Threats:  The main threat to the wild populations is the overharvesting of the species for human consumption. The species have been over-harvested for the local and wider markets in the last three decades.

Conservation Efforts:  The species have been included in CITES Appendix II since 2018 along with all the species in the genus Cuora. The species is listed in Annex B of the European Union Commission Regulation.

11. Indochinese Box Turtles

Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) in the dark on the ground in Hong Kong
An Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) in the dark on the ground in Hong Kong. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Geoemydidae 
  • Binomial Name: Cuora galbinifrons
  • Carapace Length: (15–20 cm)
  • Weight: 1.8 to 2.6 lb (0.8 to 1.2 kg)
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

This is a predominantly terrestrial freshwater turtle that is endemic in southern Guangxi province & Hainan Island in China, northeastern Laos, and northern Viet Nam (possibly as far south as Nghe An province). It may also be endemic to northeastern Cambodia.

The species is mostly terrestrial and is endemic in moist forests at an altitude of 500 to 1000 meters. Although C. galbinifrons is a good winner, it prefers to spend most of its time on land. This turtle becomes stressed when temperatures exceed 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). It doesn’t tolerate high temperatures well.

Main Threats:  the biggest threat to the wild population is the exploitation of the species for human consumption namely food and traditional medicine on the Chinese markets. The species was also heavily traded on the international market for the international pet trade in the 1980s and 1990s.

Habitat degradation caused by logging is another significant threat to C. galbinifrons although most of its geographic range is protected.

Conservation Efforts:  The species have been included in CITES Appendix II. The species is listed in Annex B of the European Union Commission Regulation. In China, the species is listed in National Protected Terrestrial Wild Animals that are Beneficial, or with Important Economic and Scientific Research Value.

In Lao PDR, the species is listed under Prohibited Category I of the Wildlife and Aquatic Species Law. In Viet Nam, the species is listed as Priority Protected Rare, Precious, and Endangered Species and is protected by law.

Most of the geographic range of C. galbinifrons is protected and designated as Special Conservation Areas and National Parks.

12. Red-crowned Roofed Turtle

Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga) standing on a rock in the middle of water in Madhya Pradesh, India
A Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga) standing on a rock in the middle of water in Madhya Pradesh, India. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Binomial Name: Batagur kachuga
  • Carapace Length: 22 inches (56 cm)
  • Weight: 55 lb (25 kg)
  • Diet in the Wild: Aquatic plants
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

Batagur kachuga is a freshwater turtle that is endemic in South Asia. This turtle is known as the red-crowned roofed turtle because of the red coloration on the head and neck of males. This and other turtles in the genus Batagur used to belong to the genus Kachuga.

You can find the species in Bangladesh, northeastern India, central Nepal, and perhaps Myanmar (Burma). Out of all the countries mentioned, we can be certain of only India as the species may be extinct in all the other regions. There are known to be about just 500 adult specimens alive in the wild today.

The larger members of the species are the females and they are much larger than the males. Females can reach a carapace length of 22 inches or 56 cm and a mass of 55 lb or 25 kg.

Main Threats: Occasionally, humans will collect the species for consumption and for the East Asian export trade. In recent times, wild specimens have been confiscated in Hong Kong and Agra in Uttar Pradesh (in India).

Another major threat that species face is habitat degradation due to the construction of hydrological projects. These projects lead to pollution and change in the river flow which impacts the lives of the species. Entanglement in fishing nets is another major threat to the wild population.

Conservation Efforts: Batagur kachuga is in the CITES Appendix II. The species is also protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, specifically Schedule I of the Act. Both laws place significant limitations on the hunting and trade of the species.

13. Flattened musk turtle

Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus) on sand and greens in Alabama, USA
A Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus) on sand and greens in Alabama, USA. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Binomial Name: Sternotherus depressus
  • Average Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches
  • Lifespan: 20+ years

Diet in the Wild: (carnivorous) aquatic invertebrates such as snails and mussels

This chelonian is referred to as the flattened musk turtle since the carapace is quite flattened (depressed) when compared to other musk turtles.  These small chelonians usually live in shallow streams where they hunt.

Main Threats: The main threats to S. depressus include extensive strip mining and damming. Other contributing threats include pollution, development, and clear-cutting. All of these threats have led to the degradation of the habitat.

Conservation Efforts: The IUCN Red List lists the flattened musk turtle as a critically endangered species. While not listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the S. depressus is listed as a threatened species on the US Federal List.

14. Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle

Asian Narrow-headed Softshell (Chitra chitra)
An Asian Narrow-headed Softshell (Chitra chitra) swimming under shallow water.
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Chitra chitra
  • Carapace Length:  59 inches (150 cm)
  • Weight:  220 to 560 lbs (100 to 254 kg)
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

C. chitra has two recognized subspecies. These include C. c. chitra which is endemic in Thailand and Malaysia; and C. c. javanensis which is endemic in Sumatra and Java, both islands are part of Indonesia.

This critically endangered turtle is also known as Nutaphand’s narrow-headed softshell and is one of the biggest freshwater turtles on Earth. The species is endemic in peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. In Malaysia, the species is exclusive to the Pahang River.

In Indonesia, the species is endemic to Java and Sumatra, specifically the Ciliwung River system, the Solo River, the Brantas River, Mae Klong, and Mae Nam Pachi.

The species has a narrow head and is dark in coloration.

Main Threats: The biggest threat to the species is the collection for human consumption and for the pet trade. Both the flesh and eggs of the species are consumed.

Currently, there are barely any specimens found in the wild. Other threats include the construction of reservoirs and dams which lead to flooding of nesting habitats, changes in water levels, changes in substrate texture, and water turbidity & temperature; and sand dredging.

Conservation Efforts:  C. chitra is listed in the CITES Appendix II. The species is also protected under Thailand’s Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act (WARPA law) and the Government Regulation of Indonesia No. 7 of 1999. Both laws place significant limitations on the hunting and trade of the species.

The Fisheries Department of Thailand established a breeding program in the late 1990s in Kanchanaburi. 

15. Black Softshell Turtle

Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) in mud half submerged in water
A Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) in mud half submerged in water . – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia nigricans
  • Carapace Length: 35.5 inches (90  cm)
  • Weight: 120 lb (54.5 kg)
  • Lifespan: 100+ years
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

N. nigricans there are very few individuals of this species still alive. The species is endemic in Assam. Most of the individuals are endemic in the Bayazid Bastami shrine at Chittagong. N. nigricans can also be found in Udaipur in Tripura and Guwahati in Assam.

N. nigricans is known as the black softshell because of its coloration. The species also have a leathery shell similar to those of other softshell turtles.

The species is known to hibernate from late autumn to spring.

The highest recorded age is claimed to be approximately 150 years old.

Main Threats:  the main threat to the species is human intervention. The main threats include habitat degradation as humans move into the habitat of the species and modify the habitat to fit human needs. Humans occupying their habitats also lead to contamination of water.

Conservation Efforts:  the species was once declared extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) however, they are currently classified as critically extinct by the IUCN. There are over 200 species currently.

16. Burmese Peacock Softshell

Burmese Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia formosa) swimming in a square glass container with water in Kachin, Myanmar
A Burmese Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia formosa) swimming in a square glass container with water in Kachin, Myanmar. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia formosa
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

N. formosa is endemic to Burma (Myanmar) as you may have figured out from the common name. The species may be endemic to Thailand and Yunnan in China. In Myanmar, the species can mostly be found in the Sittaung river, the Chindwin river, and the Ayeyarwady river.

The species is endemic in large rivers with sandy beds. The females come to sandbanks to lay eggs.

Main Threats:  the biggest threat to the species is human consumption. The species is/was traded for the East Asian food trade. Both the meat and the eggs are consumed.

Other threats include gold mining impacts; habitat degradation caused by humans settling in the riverside habitat of the species; illegal fishing, boat traffic; and increased sedimentation. Because of the slow breeding nature of the species, they are sensitive to exploitation.

Conservation Efforts: N. formosa is in the CITES Appendix II. The species holds a protected status under  Mayanmar’s laws, specifically the Protection of Wildlife and Protected Areas Law. The Mandalay  Zoo breeds and hatches the species. Only a wild population is endemic to Tamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary.

17. Yangtze Giant Softshell

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) huddled up in netted mesh in Dong Mo Lake, Ha Noi, Vietnam
A Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) huddled up in netted mesh in Dong Mo Lake, Ha Noi, Vietnam. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Rafetus swinhoei
  • Average Adult Size: 39 inches
  • Lifespan: Unknown

Diet in the Wild: frogs, crabs, snails, and vegetation such as water hyacinth

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is a critically endangered species. Only about four living individuals of the species are known to exist. As such, the species are on the verge of extinction. The R. swinhoei is known as the largest freshwater turtle species in the world. It is a softshell turtle and as such has a leathery carapace.

Main Threats: The key threats to the species include habitat loss as well as overharvesting for food and alternative medicine.

Conservation Efforts: The R. swinhoei is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Efforts made to captive-breed the last of the R. swinhoei in China so far have proven fruitless. The species are protected by CITES Appendix II.

18. Leith’s Softshell Turtle

Leith's Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii) on a green leaf taken by Anagha Devi
A Leith’s Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii) on a green leaf taken by Anagha Devi. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia leithii
  • Carapace Length: 25 inches (64 cm)
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

N. leithii is similar to both Nilssonia gangetica and Nilssonia hurum. The similarities include appearance and even since N. leithii is smaller than N. gangetica and larger than N. hurum. Of course, this is dependent on the specimen in question. N. leithii can reach a straight carapace length of about 64 cm or 25 inches.

The species is endemic to southern India starting from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh to Karnataka, and the Ganges basin. Similar to other species on this list, N. leithii has a very restricted population and in recent times, it is endemic to just Karnataka, specifically the Kali River; Sivaram Wildlife Sanctuary & Manjira Wildlife Sanctuary found in Telangana.

Main Threats:  As with most critically endangered species the main threats that the N. leithii faces are due to human activities. N. leithii is overharvested within its geographic range. This has been to supply the Indian markets. This overharvesting peaked during the 1980s and 1990s.

Currently, due to the limited number of specimens in the wild, the trade of meat is sporadic. Regardless of this, the species have been reported in illegal trades in Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Conservation Efforts:  The species have been included in CITES Appendix II since 2013. The species is listed in Annex B of the European Union Commission Regulation.  II. The species is also protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, specifically Schedule I of the Act.

The species is endemic to several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries including Sivaram Wildlife Sanctuary, Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharavathi Wildlife Sanctuary,  Dandeli Anshi Tiger Reserve,  Tungabhadra River Sanctuary, Bheemeshwari Wildlife Reserve/Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, Kudremukh National Park, Manjira Wildlife Sanctuary, Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve, and Nagarjunsagar National Park.

19. Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle

Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra vandijki) on concrete taken by Krishna Kumar Mishra
A Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra vandijki) on concrete taken by Krishna Kumar Mishra. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Chitra vandijki
  • Carapace Length: 39 inches (100 cm)
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

Little is known of Chitra vandijki as there are very few specimens in existence. There is almost nothing known about the ecology of the species. However, like other softshell turtles, this is a fully aquatic chelonian that only come to land to nest.

In recent times the species have been recorded in the Sittaung River and Salween River in Myanmar. Other confirmed sightings happened in the Chindwin River, Ayeyarwady River, and the tributaries of these rivers.

C. vandijki is a huge turtle with a carapace length of 3.3 ft and more.

Main Threats:  C. vandijki has been overexploited for the southern Chinese food market since the 1980s to date. It is also collected for human consumption locally within its geographic range. Other threats may include gold mining within its range and poor fishing practices such as the use of poison and explosives for fishing.

Conservation Efforts:  C. vandijki is part of the CITES Appendix I. The species holds a protected status under Mayanmar’s laws, specifically the Protection of Wildlife and Protected Areas Law.

The enforcement of this protection law is mostly ineffectual. The species is protected in the Tamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary.

20. McCord’s Snakeneck Turtle/Roti Island snake-necked turtle

Roti Island snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi)
Several Roti Island snake-necked turtles swimming together in tank (Chelodina mccordi)
Quick Facts
  • Family: Chelidae
  • Binomial Name: Chelodina mccordi
  • Average Adult Size: 5.91 to 8.43 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years

Diet in the Wild: insects, fish, amphibians, worms, mollusks, and algae

The Roti Island snake-necked turtle, also known as the McCord’s Snakeneck Turtle, is a critically endangered turtle species. The common name of this turtle refers to its long neck (which is about two-thirds of its carapace length). This long neck helps the turtle hunt.

The C. mccordi is native to the Rote island in Indonesia.

Main Threats: The key threat to the species is excessive harvesting for the pet trade. This rare turtle is still one of the most desired turtles in the world.

Conservation Efforts: The C. mccordi is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In 2001, even before it was listed in CITES Appendix II, the capture and trade of this rare turtle were prohibited. While several trade sanctions have limited the movement of these turtles outside Rote island, the wild population is still declining.

Endangered Freshwater Turtles

21. Coahuilan Box Turtle

Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) in dry sand in Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico
A Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) in dry sand in Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Terrapene coahuila
  • Average Adult Size: 6 inches
  • Lifespan: 9 years

Diet in the Wild: (opportunistic omnivores) insects, mushrooms, spiders, crustaceans, fish, spike rush, and green algae

The Coahuilan box turtle is endemic to the state of Coahuila, Mexico ( specifically to the Cuatro Ciénegas basin). This chelonian is generally found in shallow rivers and streams.

Main Threats: The main threat to the species is the loss of wetland habitats. Because these reptiles mostly live in shallow streams and rivers that are susceptible to drying, the loss of marshes (wetlands) impacts population decline significantly. Other threats include human developments such as the construction of roads, pipelines, and railroads through the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin.

Conservation Efforts: T. coahuila is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and the US Federal List. Due to the endangered status of the species, it is protected by CITES Appendix I.

22. Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) in muddy water near grass in Virginia, USA
A Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) in muddy water near grass in Virginia, USA. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Clemmys guttata
  • Carapace Length: 3 to 5 inches (8 to 12 cm)
  • Lifespan: 25 to 30 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Small live animals, filamentous algae, fruits
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

C. guttata is a small turtle with a carapace length of 4.5 inches on average. The carapace is dark with yellow spots that give the species its common name. The carapace and plastron both show growth rings which can be used to estimate the minimum age of a specimen.

C. guttata is mostly endemic to the Great Lakes region in both the United States and Canada, from the upper reaches of the Ohio river drainage area, and from St. Lawrence Valley to the southern part of lake Michigan. They can also be found in New Hampshire (specifically the foothills and coastal lowlands on the Atlantic to northern Florida.

C. guttata is endemic to wetlands such as wet forests & meadows, streams, bogs & marshes, swamps, and even vernal pools.

Main Threats: Due to the long-term reproductive contribution of mature individuals in the populations, removing mature C. guttata significantly impacts the wild populations. As such the overcollection of adult specimens for the pet trade or a pet is a major threat, and so are road mortality and mortality from agricultural machines.

Another threat is the spread of invasive plants as these plants change the vegetation structure of the turtle’s wetland habitats. Habitat degradation is another major threat. C. guttata requires specialized habitat requirements to thrive.

Conservation Efforts:  Clemmys guttata is in the CITES Appendix II. The species is also protected in several States in the United States (for example in Michigan, C. guttata is considered a ‘Species of Conservation Interest’) and Ontario and Quebec in Canada.

23. Wood Turtle

North American Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) in grass in West Virginia, USA
A North American Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) in grass in West Virginia, USA. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae 
  • Binomial Name: Glyptemys insculpta
  • Carapace Length: 6.3 to 9.8 inches (16 to 25 cm)
  • Weight: 3 lb ( 1.4 kg)
  • Lifespan: 40 to 58 years
  • Diet in the Wild: carrion, invertebrates such as earthworms and slugs, mushrooms, vegetation
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

Glyptemys insculpta, also known as the North American wood turtle, is endemic to North America. This turtle is native to the great lakes region. You can find this species from Nova Scotia in Canada to northern Virginia through the northern Appalachians to Minnesota.

In Canada, the species is endemic in Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Ontario, and New Brunswick. In the United States, the species is endemic in Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The species is semi-aquatic and is endemic in moving water bodies such as rivers, creeks, and streams but also quite far from water and on land. They can spend long periods on land. They are found in woodlands, fields, and forested areas.

The species is relatively large with a brownish carapace that looks sculptured. This look gives the species its common name. The sculptured look is down to the well-defined growth rings (annuli).

Main Threats:  threats to the species include habitat fragmentation, degradation, and destruction caused by human activities such as recreational and residential developments such as cabins and second homes; overcollection for the illegal pet trade; and road mortality.

Conservation Efforts:  Glyptemys insculpta is in the CITES Appendix II. The species is also protected in the United States and Canada (considered Threatened) – Quebec (considered Imperiled), Ontario (considered Endangered), and Ontario (considered Endangered) in Canada.

24. Pascagoula Map Turtle

Pascagoula Map Turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi) on a log near water in Jones County, Mississippi, USA
A Pascagoula Map Turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi) on a log near water in Jones County, Mississippi, USA. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Graptemys gibbonsi
  • Carapace Length: 5 to 12 inches (12 to 30 cm)
  • Weight: 12 to 111 oz ( 0.3 to 3.2 kg)
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Diet in the Wild: mollusks and insects
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

This turtle is endemic to the Pascagoula River drainage in Mississippi. The turtle gets its name from its geographic range and its genus (map turtle). Within the Pascagoula River System, the range comprises 130 km of the Pascagoula River, 290 km of the Leaf River, and 340 km of the Chkasawhay River.

The species, like other map turtles, is aquatic and is found in large water bodies with fast-flowing currents. This turtle prefers only clear waters with sandy or gravel bottoms and cannot inhabit polluted water bodies.

Graptemys gibbonsi is medium to large in size. Females are usually twice to thrice as large as males.

Main Threats: The main threat to the species is water pollution caused by riverine gravel mining, municipal runoff, and riverside paper industries. As mentioned earlier, the species cannot inhibit polluted water bodies.

This is because polluted water hugely reduces the mollusk wild populations and these turtles feed on mollusks. Other threats include over-collection for the pet trade, destruction by fishermen, and increased nest predation.

Conservation Efforts:  Graptemys gibbonsi is part of the CITES Appendix III (US). It has also been suggested that it should be included in the Endangered Species Act although this is yet to happen.

25. Blanding’s Turtle

Blandings Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) at Crex Meadows wildlife area
Blandings Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) at Crex Meadows wildlife area
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Emydoidea blandingii
  • Carapace Length: 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 cm)
  • Weight: 26 to 49 oz ( 737 to 1389 g)
  • Lifespan: 70 to 77 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Carrion, fish, fish eggs, snails, frogs, aquatic insects, other invertebrates, and vegetation
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

The Blandings turtle is dark in coloration with yellow spots on dorsal shells. The plastron also has yellow and black patterns similar to the carapace. The underside of the head is bright yellow.

The species is mostly endemic to the Great Lakes region in both the United States and Canada. You can find this species in Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia in Canada and Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maine, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota in the United States.

Main Threats:  Main threats faced by the species include collection for trade, road mortality, habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation, and predation of eggs and juveniles by subsidized predators.

Conservation Efforts: E. blandingii is in the CITES Appendix II. The species is also protected in several States in the United States (for instance in North Dakota, E. blandingii has a Level III Species of Conservation Priority ranking). E. blandingii is also protected in several provinces in Canada.

The entire pacific coast population in Canada is considered Endangered. In Nova Scotia, it is listed as Endangered. In Ontario, E. blandingii is considered Threatened. It is considered to be of Special Concern in Canada as a whole.

26. Alabama Red-bellied Cooter

Alabama Red-bellied Cooter (Pseudemys alabamensis) in grass in Jackson County, Mississippi, USA
An Alabama Red-bellied Cooter (Pseudemys alabamensis) in grass in Jackson County, Mississippi, USA. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Pseudemys alabamensis
  • Carapace Length: 12 to 14 inches (30 to 36 cm)
  • Population Trend: Unknown

The red belly is endemic in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta system. The limited geographic range of the turtle means that it is endemic to only Alabama.

In May 2022, the species was spotted near Coffee Springs in Alabama when a gravid female was laying eggs under a bridge near a river. This species inhabits the brackish waters of its range and is usually found in waters of depths 1 to 2 meters.

The species gets its common name from the red underside. The species is quite large with males reaching a carapace length of 12 inches while females reach a carapace length of 14 inches.

Main Threats:  There is little known about the threats that the species face.

Conservation Efforts: In 2007, a fence constructed along the US 98 causeway (Battleship Parkway) protected the species’ habitat in the Mobile-Tensaw delta.

27. Cagle’s Map Turtle

Cagle's Map Turtle (Graptemys caglei) on a log in Victoria County, Texas, USA
A Cagle’s Map Turtle (Graptemys caglei) on a log in Victoria County, Texas, USA. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Graptemys caglei
  • Carapace Length: 4 to 8.5 inches (10 to 22 cm)
  • Weight: 43 oz (1.2 kg)
  • Lifespan: over 20 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Aquatic insects, mollusks
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

G. caglei is endemic to Texas – particularly the Guadalupe River system (San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers) of Victoria, Hays, Dewitt, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Comal, Kendall, and Kerr counties with most of the population concentrated in the lower 120 km of the Guadalupe River. The species may also occur in the San Antonio River within the geographic range.

G. caglei is considered to be the rarest map turtle.

Main Threats: While the main threats the species face is not properly documented, habitat disturbance and alteration are most likely the main threats that the species face.

Conservation Efforts: G. caglei is included in the CITES Appendix III (US). It has also been suggested that it should be included in the Endangered Species Act although this is yet to happen. This is partly due to efforts undertaken by TPWD (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) to sufficiently protect the species from hunting and collection.

28. Pearl River Map Turtle

Pearl River Map Turtle (Graptemys pearlensis) on a wet log submerged in water in Louisiana, USA
A Pearl River Map Turtle (Graptemys pearlensis) on a wet log submerged in water in Louisiana, USA. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Graptemys pearlensis
  • Carapace Length: 5 to 12 inches ( 12 to 30 cm)
  • Weight: 12 to 111 oz ( 340 to 3150 g)
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Diet in the Wild: mollusks and insects
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

This species is closely related to Graptemys gibbonsi endemic to the Pascagoula and Leaf River systems. Unlike Graptemys gibbonsi, Graptemys pearlensis is endemic in the Pearl River and Bogue Chitto River. The species gets its common name from the Pearl River. The species is endemic in about 800 km of the Pearl River and 140 km of the Bogue Chitto River.

The species is aquatic and was once considered to be part of the species Graptemys gibbonsi (commonly known as Pascagoula map turtle).

Main Threats: The main threat the species face is water pollution. This significantly reduces the mollusk populations within the habitat. Graptemys pearlensis feeds mostly on mollusks. Within the Pearl River, water pollution is caused by gravel mining and the riverside paper industries.

Conservation Efforts: Graptemys pearlensis is part of the CITES Appendix III (US). The species is protected in Mississippi with possession of the species restricted to four individuals per person. In Louisiana, the species is considered a species of conservation concern.

29. Euphrates Softshell Turtle

Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) getting into the water in Diyarbakir, Turkey
A Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) getting into the water in Diyarbakir, Turkey. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Rafetus euphraticus
  • Carapace Length: 26.4 inches (68 cm)
  • Weight: 44 lb (20 kg)
  • Lifespan: 24 to 45 years
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

This huge softshell turtle is endemic to the Euphrates River, Tigris River, and their respective drainage region. The turtles are endemic in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. 

The species is found mostly in riverine habitats including tributaries, oxbow lakes, and the slow currents of large rivers.

The turtle looks like the African softshell turtle (Trionyx triunguis) and needs close examination to tell the difference. The species is large with a leathery shell. The coloration is dull olive with spots on the head and body. Some specimens may be black or dark brown.

Main Threats: The main threats to the species’ survival is the habitat destruction, alteration, and fragmentation. All of these threats are posed by humans. Occasionally specimens are eaten, usually by Chinese employees of the National Iranian Oil Company in Hawr-al-Azim marshland. Another threat is bycatch in fishing equipment and deaths caused by poor fishing practices.

Conservation Efforts:  The species is protected by law in Iran and Turkey where the capture and the killing of the turtle are prohibited by the government. In Turkey, there is a 2016 to 2021 Conversation Action Plan announced in 2016 for the species. It is listed in CITES Appendix II.

30. Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle

Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia hurum) on concrete under someone's hands in Kuan Pokhar, Bihar, India
An Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia hurum) on concrete under someone’s hands in Kuan Pokhar, Bihar, India. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia hurum
  • Carapace Length: 23.5 inches (60 cm)
  • Weight: 33 to 44 lb (15 to 20 kg)
  • Diet in the Wild: insects larvae, fish, prawns, and mollusks
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

The species is endemic to Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh, and southern Nepal. They inhabit the Brahmaputra, Ganga, and Indus drainage basins. Within these drainage basins, the species is endemic in ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Main Threats: The main threats that the species face are overharvesting for human consumption (for local subsistence consumption) and the international, regional and local trade of the species. The international trade of N. hurum was particularly bad in the 1990s with about 70 tons of N. hurum meat being traded each week in the East Asian markets.

Conservation Efforts: N. hurum is part of the CITES Appendix I which prohibits all international trade of the species, any part of the species, and any product made with the species. The species is also protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, specifically Schedule I of the Act. N. hurum is also protected under the Pakistan WildlifeProtection Ordinance for Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, and Northwest Frontier Agency.

Exportation of the species is also prohibited under the Pakistan Export Policy. N. hurum is also protected under the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Act of 1974, specifically Schedule III of the Act.

31. Indian Softshell Turtle

Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) swimming in murkey water with litter in Rajasthan, Indian
An Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) swimming in murkey water with litter in Rajasthan, Indian. – Source
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia gangetica
  • Carapace Length: 28 inches
  • Diet in the Wild: carrion, invertebrates, fish, reptiles, and birds
  • Population Trend: Decreasing

The species is endemic to Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, and southern Nepal. They inhabit the Mahanadi & Narmada, Ganga, and Indus drainage basins. Within these drainage basins, the species is endemic in ponds, lakes, oxbows, large canals, and rivers. The species prefer slow-moving water bodies.

Main Threats: The main threat to the wild populations is the overharvesting of the species for human consumption. The species have been over-harvested for the local and wider markets in the last three decades.

The trade of the species increased in the late 1990s when parts of the turtle were traded in large numbers. In current times, live specimens are traded. Over 16,400 live specimens were seized from 2000 to 2015.

Conservation Efforts: The species have been included in CITES Appendix I. This prohibits all international trade of the species, any part of the species, and any product made with the species. Nilssonia gangetica is also protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, specifically Schedule I of the Act.

The species is protected in projects to reduce pollution in the Ganges. The species is protected in several national parks and reserves.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main threats faced by endangered species?

The main threat faced by endangered turtle species includes the overexploitation of the species for human consumption and the habitat destruction caused by human alterations to the environment.

Should you keep endangered turtles as pets?

There are several things to consider before keeping an endangered turtle as a pet. First of all, consider if it is even legal in your locale to keep endangered species as pets within your locale.

In places such as Ontario in Canada, it is illegal to keep turtles such as Blanding’s turtle also known as Ontario’s smiling turtle as a pet. Secondly, consider if the specimen was caught illegally. Acquiring a rare pet turtle may be enabling the illegal pet trade which is bad for the survival of the species as a whole.

What is the most endangered turtle species in the world?

This is a tough question to answer since there is little population data on many critically endangered turtles. If a turtle is critically endangered then there are very few individuals remaining in the wild.

Even finding wild specimens to study often proves very difficult and most of the time impossible with the species being rarely spotted. Spotting these rare turtles is usually down to chance.

Some of the most endangered turtles include the flattened musk turtle, Roti Island snake-necked turtle, McCord’s box turtle, and the black softshell turtle.

How do I check the Endangered Status of my turtle?

You may be wondering if your pet is an endangered species. The best resource out there is IUCN Red List and the CITES Appendices. You also always check Wikipedia. While IUCN is more official, Wikipedia can be a quick way to gain quick info.

Conclusion

There are many more endangered turtle species not mentioned in this list. There are over 100 endangered turtle species, according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) – the global authority on the conservation status of species and the measures necessary to protect these species.

Many of these turtles are on the verge of extinction and will go extinct if nothing is done. The two main threats to chelonian wild populations include overharvesting and the destruction of the turtles’ natural habitats. Many of these species are protected by CITES Appendix I & II.

Similarly, conservation measures and initiatives exist all over the world to safeguard these chelonians. Regardless, the future is bleak for many of these endangered species.

If you have any additional information or questions, leave a comment.

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 1 Average: 5]

Sharing is caring!

IMACHILD

Saturday 24th of September 2022

It's just so sad that there are so many. 😭🐢😭🐢😭