There are growing concerns among conservationists that commercial trade in many species of wild-caught turtles may not be sustainable. Little information on the turtle trade and its impact on populations is available at the national level, and there are no analyses of the commercial trade in turtles in Texas. To quantitatively describe the turtle trade in Texas, we surveyed government organizations, pet and meat establishments, reptile expositions, zoos, aquariums, and Texas herpetological societies by mail, phone calls, or visits. We used the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) database to quantify the turtle trade in Texas from 1995-2000. Five turtle species accounted for 99% of collections from the wild in 1999, but at least 69 native and exotic species were available in the pet and meat markets. Nonnative species were exported from Texas, implying that they were either imported from other states and re-exported from Texas or were bred in captivity. Unfortunately, the current national wildlife trade monitoring system does not distinguish between export and re-export, making it difficult to fully understand wildlife trade patterns. Turtle populations in general were susceptible to overexploitation. We recommend that populations of commercially exploited turtles be monitored to build databases required for establishing harvest quotas and size limits. Methods used in this study could be implemented by other states to monitor their turtle trade.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service LEMIS database