The Big Unknown From the Afrotropic Ecozone
Affected Species: Nubian Flapshell Turtle (Cyclanorbis elegans)
The rarest turtle species of Africa is a big enigma. The last known specimen in captivity died in 2009 in the USA and since then no live specimens have been observed in situ during the last 25 years. With a carapace length of up to 70 cm, C. elegans is by far the largest species of the flapshell turtle subfamily. The terra typica is the Niger. Historic localities comprise Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Chad and Sudan. The distribution in Cameroon, Benin, Central African Republic and Ethiopia remains unconfirmed.
TURTLE ISLAND has made it one of its main objectives to prevent the final disappearance of this impressive turtle.
The Austrian scientist, Friedrich Siebenrock, described the species Cyclanorbis oligotylus in 1902 from the basin of the White Nile, which is today mostly South Sudan. This species was synonymous with C. elegans (Gray, 1869). Furthermore, a specimen from the Tanganyika Lake still is a mystery in terms of taxonomy. African turtle species are the least studied and least known forms on the entire planet. Affected by habitat loss and bush meat consumption, the species is at high risk of extinction in the next few years. Nubian Flapshell Turtles live in the most unexplored and politically unstable areas throughout Africa, which are often renowned as fragile biodiversity hotspots.
Our knowledge about the taxonomy and the distribution is incomplete. The biology and ecology of the population structure, food and reproduction biology are unexplored and not described in literature.
According to current data (Diagne T.2010, Luiselli L. 2011), there is a high risk of extinction in the immediate future. The Nubian Flapshell Turtle has been listed as Near Threatened (IUCN Red List, 1996 with the remark “needs updating”). More realistically, C. elegans was upgraded and classified as Critically Endangered at the IUCN Red List workshop 2013 in Togo. Submitted by Togo and the USA, all African softshell turtle species will be uplisted to CITES Appendix II at the 17th CITES COP (Conference of Parties) in South Africa in September/October 2016. China’s attention turned to Africa’s softshell turtles following the last COP in 2013, when 47 freshwater turtle species were granted stronger CITES protection, including ten Asian softshell turtle species.
Now that Asian turtles are increasingly scarce in the wild and have stronger CITES protection, turtle traffickers are targeting the African continent. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, 13,000 metric tons of Asian turtles were exported annually from South and Southeast Asia to East Asia. Of these, Asian softshell turtles represent the largest proportion.
TURTLE ISLAND plans to establish an ex-situ Nubian Flapshell Turtle breeding group. Another top priority is to identify remaining populations and to protect and/or restore remaining habitats.