Today WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals submitted a scientific petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) asking the agency to list spider tortoises and flat-tailed tortoises under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Both species are native to Madagascar and are mainly threatened by collection for the international pet trade.
“Tragically, the pet trade is rapidly driving these beautiful tortoises to extinction in the wild,” said Bethany Cotton, Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Endangered Species Act protections will help curb this serious threat to their survival.”
A single spider tortoise can fetch up to $1000. This high commercial value makes the tortoise targets for collectors. The flat-tailed tortoise is similarly imperiled; collection from the wild has already eliminated the flat-tailed tortoise population in the southwestern part of its range. Regulations, including listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix I, have failed to prevent illegal harvest and trade in the tortoises. To make matters worse, both flat-tailed tortoises and spider tortoises are losing their already limited habitat to deforestation.
“It's time for U.S. law, which currently fosters illegal trade of exotic pets, to come in line with international protections for species like these two tortoises,” said Mike Harris, Director of the Wildlife Law Program at Friends of Animals. “In submitting these petitions today, Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take the right step and move toward protecting these precious species.”
ESA protections would help eliminate the part played by the United States in the illegal trade in these tortoises, and focus attention on their plight. Listing species under the Endangered Species Act has proven an effective safety net: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Listing species outside the U.S. can both protect the species domestically by preventing illegal imports, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.