A star attraction: The illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises
D'Cruze N., Singh B., Morrison T., Schmidt-Burbach J., Macdonald DW., Mookerjee A.
© Copyright Neil D'Cruze et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. We report on illegal international trade in Indian Star Tortoises (Geochelone elegans), with a particular focus on India and Thailand.Within India, this species has received protection as a Schedule IV list species of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 for over 40 years. This study documents the illegal trade of 55,000 individuals poached from just one 'trade hub' in India. Although domestic demand persists, these individuals appear to have been primarily sourced to satiate international demand for pets in other Asian countries (e.g. Thailand and China). Since 1975, this species has been included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that regulates all commercial trade. However, an analysis of the CITES trade records relating to Thailand imports (between 2004 and 2013) found large discrepancies indicating potential illegal activity which question the legitimacy of its founding captive stock. Given its role as a major hub of illegal trade activity, both as a consumer and a country of transit, we support calls for Thailand to prohibit private ownership by extending its domestic legislation to also cover non-indigenous tortoise species. In consideration of conservation and animal welfare concerns, we also call for more field research to determine the impacts of illegal trade on wild populations, an updated assessment of its conservation status, increased cooperation between national enforcement agencies, and the implementation of targeted human behaviour change initiatives to help reduce consumer demand for this species.