The Environment Ministry said it will ban exports of the Asian brown pond turtle, a species native to islands in southern Japan, in an eleventh hour bid to prevent it going extinct.
It will be the first time the Japanese government has prohibited the export of a domestic land-dwelling animal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as the Washington Convention.
“Although it may be a bit late, we will take quick measures to alleviate the drop in their number,” a ministry official said of the policy announced March 3.
The species, Yaeyamaishigame in Japanese, is native to Ishigakijima island and elsewhere in Okinawa Prefecture. It previously was not believed to be at risk.
But in its first survey on the Asian brown pond turtle last summer, the ministry found that excessive hunting is endangering the survival of the species, which now numbers just 30,000. Prior to the survey, more than 100,000 Asian brown pond turtles were believed to live in wetlands, rice paddies and forests on the islands.
It turned out from the survey that the creatures do not dwell in forests. Their shells can measure up to 20 centimeters.
In February 2003, the Washington Convention required the approval of the exporting nation for commercial trade of the species, but the Japanese government had not imposed restrictions on transactions.
Since June 2013, 6,000 Asian brown pond turtles have been exported, primarily to Hong Kong where they are kept as pets or eaten. They sell for 3,000 yen ($25) to 6,000 yen in Hong Kong, according to ministry officials.
Following further consultations with experts, the Environment Ministry plans to introduce the export ban by the end of fiscal 2015.