AZA Safe

American Turtle Program

North American turtle populations are declining rapidly due to habitat loss and degradation, road mortality, and nest predation from human subsidized predators. 

The additional loss of adult turtles from illegal collection for domestic and international trade has an enormous impact on the survival of these species. Due to their low reproductive rate, turtle populations cannot recover from these losses.

State and federal law enforcement officials and conservation biologists consider the illegal collection and trade of turtles to be a national and international conservation crisis.

A proactive approach is needed to conserve turtles, including efforts to: restore extant but declining populations, reclaim lost or degraded habitats, and to reintroduce populations, when possible. This requires an integrated approach involving both field and zoo biologists, veterinarians, federal and state regulators, and wildlife law enforcement officials.

The AZA SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program, patterned largely after the IUCN Conservation and Planning Specialist Group’s One Plan Approach, provides an excellent vehicle to address these multiple issues. The AZA SAFE: American Turtle Program focuses on five types of imperiled North American turtles: Blanding’s Turtles, Bog Turtles, North American box turtles, Spotted Turtles, and North American Wood Turtles. Due to the high numbers of all North American box turtles in illegal trade and similarity of appearance, all members of the genus Terrapene are included in the program.

Program Goals

  • Conserve and expand wild populations of Blanding’s Turtles, Bog Turtles, North American box turtles, North American Wood Turtles, and Spotted Turtles.
  • Assist regulators, wildlife managers, and law enforcement efforts to protect wild turtles.
  • Develop a pathway for confiscated turtles to contribute to effective conservation efforts.
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