Top 10 First-Time Projects for the Conservation-Minded Individual
Anthony ranks in-need species in order of accessibility to a keeper looking for their first conservation-minded project.
While this list does not cover those species in the most dire situations, it is my best attempt to develop a list of animals for those considering keeping for conservation for the first time. While so few captive animals are sent from the US back to range countries, it has happened, and will occur more in the future. Exactly how much more is yet to be seen, but recent re-introductions of the Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annamensis) and the Chinese Golden Coin Turtle (Cuora trifasciata) are an encouraging indication of possible things to come. Additionally, so many chelonian species continue to be exploited within their native ranges, making the viability of assurance colonies more and more imperative.
This is my attempt to highlight important species that may fly “under the radar”, for one reason or another, but deserve attention from keepers looking to acquire their first conservation-minded project. We encourage those who want to contribute to conservation with these species find other organizations and individuals to partner with, in addition to asking the questions necessary to develop a worthwhile conservation effort. As I mentioned before, many species are in situations considered much more dire than those listed here, but it is tough to justify listing species such as Testudo kleinmanni, Geoemyda spengleri, Pyxis arachnoides, Pyxis planicauda, and Geochelone platynota when they are so expensive and/or difficult to obtain. While these species are of utmost importance, we can’t expect every keeper to be able to locate these animals, let alone purchase them and provide the proper husbandry they need.
Many keepers may be attracted to interesting looking morphs or hybrids, as some rare, in-need species may not be as “eye-catching” or well-known. However, it is our belief that knowledge is power, and working to breed rare species in need of conservation effort can be as rewarding as any breeding project. The rankings in this list are just for fun, and we hope you will “argue with us” regarding your thoughts on these designations or species that didn’t make the cut.
We used a blend of subjective and objective reasoning to develop these rankings. First, we subjectively selected 10 species that came to mind when considering many factors including: ease of captive keeping and breeding, temperature, diet, and habitat requirements. Then, to rank these 10 species, we applied 3 objective scales: size, price (however, prices do fluctuate), and conservation status. Lastly, we added their point totals up to give a final point total. The first ranked species has the highest amount of points. Tie-breakers, in order, are: Conservation Status, Size, then Price.
- 5: ≤ 6 inches
- 4: ≤ 9 inches
- 3: ≤ 12 inches
- 2: ≤ 15 inches
- 1: > 15 inches
- 5: ≤ $30
- 4: ≤ $75
- 3: ≤ $125
- 2: ≤ $250
- 1: > $250
- 5: Extinct in the Wild
- 4: Critically Endangered
- 3: Endangered
- 2: Threatened
- 1: Near Threatened
10Burmese Mountain Tortoise (Manouria emys ssp.) – $200
This species, with two recongized subspecies, is listed high on the list because of it’s immense adult size. These tortoises are believed to be the most primitive of all tortoises, due to their similarities to many chelonian ancestors. Another rarely documented species, good luck finding info on them to put into your next book report assignment at school.
9Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) – $250
While Blanding’s Turtle is sometimes available in the pet trade as CB young, is relatively affordable, and in need of captive prpogation, it is also a turtle that does not fair extremely well in extreme heat and is protected in many cold weather states where it is native. These turtles like their living environment cool, and fair well with a very cold winter for hibernation. In northern states where they are not protected, keepers should make every effort to keep and breed this species.
8Spiny Turtle (Heosemys spinosa) – $250
What’s tough about listing this turtle is that fact that it they are almost exclusively available as wild-caught imports. If you do decide to buy, be sure to get to know the seller and your vet. In other words, do so at your own risk, and proceed with extreme caution. This species seems also to be unfit for most beginners husbandry-wise, and has proven difficult to breed. So, why did this species make our list? I believe that this species still demands a relatively low price despite its immense beauty and suitability in becoming a flagship species that can be used to highlight conservation programs and bring the beauty and plight of turtles into more conversations.
7Forsten’s Tortoise (Indotestudo forstenii) – $180
A species in serious need of assistance both in and ex-situ. There are “breeding facilities” on the island of Sulawesi, where this tortoise is from, but those establishments seem more like holding facilities for housing wild caught specimens, ill-equiped to provide adequate accomidations for healthy living and breeding. There are captive hatched animals available every year for affordable prices, and adults offered for sale are almost certainly wild caught.
6Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata) – $150
An under-represented and underappreciated tortoise that should be considered by many more chelonian keepers. While Centrochelys sulcata is a great example of captive breeding success, perhaps a bit of education could save new keepers the trouble of housing 150 pound tortoises, by opening their eyes to smaller, equally attractive tortoises like this. Much like it’s cousin, the Forsten’s Tortoise, this tortoise is still available fresh after importation and as an affordable captive hatchling. Choose to go with the latter route, and you will most likely be rewarded with years of enjoyment.
5Yellow Pond Turtle (Mauremys mutica mutica) – $150
It can be tough to even find information on this species. If we have learned anything from other Asian turtles, we should know that the situation in which this turtle currently finds itself will probably get worse before it ever gets better. A lot of the common struggles apply for this species in the wild, including collection for the pet trade, food markets and traditional medicine. When you can find them, they are very affordable. There seems to be next to zero market for this species here in the United States.
4Yellow-Margined Box Turtle (Cuora flavomarginata) – $225
What a joy to work with! This species is personable and energetic, on top of being undeniably beautiful. It is also a great example of what can be accomplished through captive breeding by dedicated private individuals. Currently, the Cuora flavomarginata Taxonomy Management Group has produced hundreds of these turtles, and they hope to return F2 animals to range countries in coming years. Fingers crossed.
3Chinese Golden Thread Turtle (Mauremys sinensis) – $30
Some of you may be surprised by this, as we don’t think of this species to be hard to acquire. The Golden Thread Turtle is quite common in the pet trade, especially in the US, and for very minimal prices. Also sticking with the developing trend of most animals on this list, this turtle is suffering in the wild for reasons common to Asian turtles and there is also a lack of literature dedicated to it specifically. Prices on this species have gone up a little bit recently, but it can still be found for very reasonable amounts from reputable breeders.
2Cagle’s Map Turtle (Graptemys caglei) – $100
Consider this addition to the list as being our sign of respect to the entire Graptemys genus as a whole. Another species we don’t think of as hard to acqurie, this species makes the list due to its Endangered status and its entirely manageable adult size. Male Cagle’s Map Turtles are sexually mature at approximately 3 inches! That being said, they are not available for sale often, so keep your eyes peeled.
1Reeve’s Turtle (Mauremys reevesii) – $25
Another species that may surprise you because this turtle is obviously a common animal in the pet trade and we have all seen or even kept this species at some point. For that reason, we may not have noticed their situation in the wild. They are subject to all of the common threats to wild survival, including habitat degradation, collection for the pet trade, food and turtle farms, and to be used in traditional medicine. The IUCN lists this species as endangered due to the fact that these alarming threats to it’s survival continue to reduce it’s wild numbers.