Project Overview

Tortoises and freshwater turtles are among the most threatened groups of animals on the planet. Eight species have already gone extinct in recent history, and of the remaining 320 species, more than half are imperiled, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Although turtles have evolved to avoid extinction at the hands of predators, severe weather and disease, humans have proven to be the most profound threat to a group that has otherwise survived for 225 million years.

In addition to altering, destroying and polluting tortoise and freshwater turtle habitat, accelerating climate change, introducing invasive species and facilitating the spread of disease, humans have demolished tortoise and freshwater turtle populations through the legal and illegal collection of the animals for food, pets and/or medicinal use. Between 2000 and 2015, more than 300,000 tortoises and freshwater turtles were seized from global illegal trade, leaving some species, such as the Ploughshare Tortoise, close to extinction. And this includes only the reported seizures.

Project Goals

Examining confiscated Ricefield Turtles.

Global Wildlife Conservation partners with the Turtle Conservancy, IUCN, and other global and local organizations to prevent the extinction of the world’s tortoises and freshwater turtles. We do this by:

  • Providing support to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to assess the conservation status of every species of tortoise and freshwater turtle. This information helps conservationists prioritize and manage imperiled species.
  • Monitoring and analyzing illegal trade and using this information to help develop policy that combats illegal poaching at state, national and international (CITES) levels.
  • Supporting efforts to protect habitat for critically endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles.
  • Conducting research on the distribution, natural history and population status of turtle species and providing this information through technical publications and public outreach.

(All photos by Peter Paul van Dijk)

Quick Facts

Number of known species


Continents found

All except Antarctica

Largest living tortoise

Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis niger porteri)

Most endangered

Swinhoe’s Giant Softshell Turtle

Additional GWC Global Projects