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Information About The Most Endangered Tortoise And Turtle Species

Updated on January 9, 2012

Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his kind / CC BY 2.0 / CC BY 2.0

What turtles and tortoises are the most endangered?

After writing the article, 10 Reasons Not To Buy A Pet Turtle Or Tortoise I was asked by a reader to write an article about the names of the most endangered tortoise species. While I could compile a list, it would be a lot easier to list the least endangered species, because there are so few that are not in danger of extinction. In fact, I know of no species of tortoise that is doing better in our human centered world of overpopulation and over development. Some turtles are doing better because of humankind's environmental manipulation, namely Red Eared Sliders and Snapping turtles. Most other types of turtles are in the same rapid decline as their dryer tortoise cousins. I will do my best to put forth some analogies of some species that have been doing better and some that are doing worse. Also, it should be noted that some wild caught specimens should never be bought as a beginners pet. Captive bred specimens (if such a designation can truly be verified) are the best pets to buy. Some species, such as the South American Red Foot, are in danger of disappearing from their native range both for being collected for the pet trade and for over-collection for food for the nearby communities. But here in the U.S. many breeders have successfully started a viable population to be sold without directly pressuring the wild population, at least in theory!

Take for example, the Sulcatta. Sometimes called the Spur Thigh or African Spurred Tortoise (though there is another species also referred to as the Spur Thigh) the Sulcatta Geochelone Sulcatta is doing quite well everywhere except Central Africa, where it is originally from! The Sulcatta is one of the most popular of the large tortoise species for sale in the pet trade. Ironically, because of drought and famine the tortoise is quickly on the decline in Ethiopia and other parts of it's native range. While here in the States you can find babies for $50 a pop! They breed like reptilian rabbits with annual clutches of up to 20 eggs! So in this example, the Sulcatta is in danger of disappearing from it's native range, while it is being bred to abundance here in the United States.

Compare that to the Madagascar Spider Tortoise. Like many of the amazingly beautiful tortoise species from Madagascar, they are in decline from overabundant collection for the pet trade as well as destruction of clutches by exotic predators like swine. The Madagascar Spider Tortoise only lays 1 egg per year, only one! You will find these tortoises for sale online sometimes for in the thousands of dollars. There are breeders out there who have successfully maintained a private stock and who control the marketable population much the same way the diamond families control their prices. By only releasing a few into the market at a time. These reptiles are the victims of the one-two punch of over collection and habitat loss. Not to mention the low blow of exotic predation thrown in.

I would be remiss to not mention my favorite tortoise species, the Box Turtle. They have several subspecies Terrapene Carolina Major, Terrapene Carolina Carolina and Terrapene Carolina Bauri to name a few. You may have noticed that these tortoises are called "turtles" because in the States most people don't know the difference and just call them all turtles. The difference is that tortoises are mainly terrestrial and turtles are mainly aquatic. Some species are almost perfectly both like the Blandings Turtle or the Wood Turtle. But the Box is almost completely terrestrial. Box turtles are still abundant in a few places here in the U.S. I've been looking for them in the wild all my life and have never seen them there. I have seen them grossly abused in ten gallon tanks. A box turtle may have a native habitat of over several acres in the wild, and for some reason people plunk down a few bucks for a ten gallon tank and they think they can house one efficiently. This is partly the consequence of the tragic name "Box Turtle". There is a reason pet stores secretly refer to the ten gallon as the "Ten Gallon Torture Tank".

As I mentioned earlier, not all species of turtles are doing poorly. The Red Eared Slider Trachemys Scripta Elegans has stormed Normandy for crying out loud! That is, the Red Eared Slider, a Southern and Midwestern American turtle native, has conquered habitat all around the planet. Reports from Europe have claimed that they are pushing out the native turtle species because of their high egg count reproduction. Again, there are also reports of this species in decline in much of it's native habitat, even as it invades the rest of the world!

Another species that is doing alright is Chelydra Serpentina or The Snapping Turtle. The reason this species is doing so well while just about every other species of turtle and tortoise is in decline is two fold. One, they are mean mothers! Ask anyone who's ever seen one up close, they look the part and act the part of a Snapper! Two, they take advantage of man-made waterways such as canals and artificial ponds quickly unlike many other species.

If you were inspired by this article, check out Ben Zoltak's first eBook

Sea Turtles are also endangered

Creative Commons:
Creative Commons:

Giant Galapagos Tortoises, though protected, are still endangered. / CC BY 2.0 / CC BY 2.0

More Information About Endangered Tortoise And Turtle Species

As I said earlier, it is much easier to list the few species of turtle and tortoise that are doing alright, rather than list all those endangered or threatened because nearly every species of turtle or tortoise is in decline. Here's where the debate is though, as far as I can tell. As of today, February 8, 2010 the world human population is just a few million under 7 billion. Out off the coast of Ecuador, on the Galapagos Islands, lives the last specimen of Geochelone nigra abingdoni and his name is aptly, Lonesome George. He is the last of his kind. Though several other species of Galapagos Tortoise survive and even thrive under protection, Lonesome George stands alone against the backdrop of seven billion screaming, bomb dropping, lawn mowing Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Most of his kind were eaten by hungry sailors or the exotic swine the humans left behind.

Let's not forget the sea turtles. While a few fish trawlers have begun to use turtle "excluder" devices, not all do. Sea turtles habitats continue to be tread upon by beach goers, their dogs and their SUVs. Some arribadas (the Spanish word for the egg hatching period) are supervised by the same communities that eat the eggs, in order to replenish the population. This is an example of a sustainable policy for the sea turtles, an example to be held in high esteem.

No one likes doom and gloom. Ultimately I believe turtles and tortoises will survive the devastation of human overpopulation. Sadly, I believe the rich diversity found in the many forms and colors of these wonderful Chelonians may be lost. But there is reason to believe they will survive. They made it past whatever killed the dinosaurs anyway!

Here is a list of some of the many species of endangered turtles and tortoises in rapid decline around the world:

  • Giant Galapagos Tortoise - Geochelone Nigra
  • Chilean Tortoise - Geochelone Chilensis
  • Red Footed Tortoise - Geochelone Carbonaria
  • Yellow Footed Tortoise - Geochelone Denticulata
  • Yellow Spotted Amazon River Turtle - Podocnemis Unifilis
  • Arrau River Turtle - Podocnemis Exapansa
  • Gopher Tortoise - Gopherus Polyphemus
  • Desert Tortoise - Gopherus Agassizii
  • Coahuilan Box Turtle - Terrapene Coahuila
  • Blanding's Turtle - Emydoidea Blandingii
  • Wood Turtle - Clemmys Insculpta
  • Spotted Turtle - Clemmys Guttata
  • Asian Brown Tortoise - Manouria Emys
  • Impressed Tortoise - Manouria Impressa
  • Travancore Tortoise - Indotestudo Forstenii
  • Indian Star Tortoise - Geochelone Elegans
  • Indian Roofed Turtle - Kachuga Tecta
  • Big-Headed Turtle - Platysternon Megacephalum
  • African Pancake Tortoise - Malacochersus Tornieri
  • Angonoka Tortoise - Geochelone Yniphora
  • Radiated Tortoise - Geochelone Radiata
  • Giant Aldabra Tortoise - Geochelone Gigantea
  • Marginated Tortoise - Testudo Marginata
  • European Pond Turtle - Emys Orbicularus
  • Spanish Pond Turtle - Mauremys Leprosa
  • Leatherback Turtle - Dermochelys Coriacea
  • Hawksbill Turtle - Eretmochelys Imbricata
  • Loggerhead Turtle - Caretta Caretta

Update September 2011

After rereading this article, I realize that it would be very helpful to potential turtle tortoise buyers to have a more handy, and qualitative resource on which turtles and tortoise are most endangered. I have found a great chart in all places at none other than Wikipedia. Though I wouldn't recommend Wikipedia for every type of research, it does have a wonderful chart on the vulnerability and endangerment of all animal species to be found on the upper right corner of each article. But don't take my word for it, check it out here!


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    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Yes and of course Lonesome George passed just last year. It is sad. I am heartened at least, by the tenacity of chelonians in general and remind myself that although it is our worlds loss when we force an extincition, at least the species as a whole, is able to outsmart humankinds pollution and sprawl.

      Here's to turtles! I'm working on a new piece about a turtle my son and I found that was hit by a car. Should get it done by next week.



    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      6 years ago from The High Seas

      This is good timing because a few months ago (the last time I was near a tv) I watched a documentary on the last two tortoises on an island and then one of them died. The end of a breed. Sad.

    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      8 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Me too spinks, me too. Lonesome George is still kicking, so who knows?


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      my fav animal is turtles i'm so sad about lonesome george. :( :(

    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Arthur you observation of Lonesome George is less than subline, haha but made me laugh nonetheless. I have been really busy and with summer here (fellow Northerner) you know it's time for a guy like me to paint and paint while the weather's best. Sorry I've disappeared but I'll be back!!!! Thanks for caring feels good to be missed!


      Taylor, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      i think this is cool way to go lol

    • Arthur Windermere profile image

      Arthur Windermere 

      9 years ago

      Lonesome George is doing his best impression of an old man's genitals.

      I think you missed the teenage mutant ninja species of turtle, but nobody's perfect.

      Okay, I'll be honest: I don't care about turtles. Although it was an interesting and informative article, I was really just wondering where you've gone to, Ben Zoltak. You've disappeared into your shell, like Lonesome George on a cold morning. hehe Hope you won't be an endangered species here on hubpages. I miss the eggs of wisdom you lay around here.

      Later alligator!

    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Thank you I'm glad you liked it.

    • entertianmentplus profile image


      9 years ago from United States

      Very cool hub I enjoyed it.

    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Maita, cute hat! Thanks for stopping by, I wonder if there are any turtles/tortoises native to the Philippines? I love these creatures too, there's something meditative about them!

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      9 years ago from US

      thank you for sharing it to us BEN, and I love tortoises, they continue to amuse me, there is something very earthly to these animals, Maita

    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Thanks Jen, I'm glad to know I spread the word and awareness. I don't get that warm fuzzy feeling enough as far as I am concerned!

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 

      9 years ago from Delaware

      Wow Ben I had NO idea! I am stunned to read of this but grateful to you for making me aware. This is too sad and I'm not even a big fan of turtles or tortoises. I had no knowledge they could be endangered. Thanks for the useful hub.

    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Thanks Hello, hello. Unfortunately, sometimes our brains are connected to our dumb-bone.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for a great but sad hub. The human race which supposed to have brains will yet destroy everything what is living and then what?

    • Ben Zoltak profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Zoltak 

      9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Thanks BkCreative, just trying to do my part. I don't want to scare anyone away from these great creatures, just trying to do something to help them out. Thanks for sharing the word!

    • BkCreative profile image


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks for this information. We need to be informed - and responsible.

      Thanks too, for the list and photos! I'll bookmark it and share it!


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