International Centre for the Conservation of Turtles

To establish a breeding and education centre for Asian turtles in Germany


Many South-East Asian wildlife species are threatened by various reasons including unsustainable use and illegal trade. For instance, turtles have become a traditional component of Chinese medicine and cuisine.The illegal trade of exotic animals initiated in the 1980s as a result of the growing economy and especially market opening and free currency exchange. The fast growing economy and prosperity in large portions of the Chinese population generated a growing demand for luxury and exotic food, from which turtle species. Since China cannot meet its own demand for turtles, populations within whole Southeast Asia have been plundered, affecting about 70 turtle species. Several species have already been eradicated, many more are on the brink of extinction and have not been seen for years in their natural habitats, e.g. the Yunnan box turtle (Cuora yunnanensis) was observed for the last time in 1906 and is now considered to be extinct. The red-necked pond turtle (Chinemys nigricans), yellow-headed box turtle (Cuora aurocapitata), McCord’s box turtle (Cuora mccordi), Pan’s box turtle (Cuora pani) and Zhou’s box turtle (Cuora zhoui) are all considered “commercially extinct” and assumed to be almost or already extinct in the wild. Small numbers of these species still exist in captivity. At least 25 more species are also on the brink of extinction. Some species are only known from the few market places where they have been found.


Some years ago, the well-known German captive care specialist Elmar Meier proposed to establish a breeding facility for endangered Asian turtle species in Münster Zoo, making available his valuable collection.  After initial funding had been secured, Münster Zoo, in cooperation with ZGAP and the German Society for Herpetology (DGHT), decided to build the International Centre for the Conservation of Turtles (IZS). With the support of many grants and donations, the construction started in 2001. In October 2003, the first room of the IZS was inaugurated, the second one was completed in autumn 2004. Adjacent to the IZS, an information and education centre is currently being built. While the exposition room will inform the zoo visitors about the increasing destruction of biodiversity and natural habitats and the fate of Asian turtles, the neighbouring education space will serve as an extracurricular learning facility enabling children to explore biological and scientific questions on their own.


The turtle breeding facility in Münster shall not only provide a secure base for the short term, but assure the survival of the respective species on the long term. Integrating the establishment of ex situ colonies and in situ field research, protection of natural habitats, and awareness campaigns will be the way to save Asian turtles from extinction. Therefore, after completing the construction of the turtle breeding facilities, we are currently trying to raise funds for a turtle complex within the ACCB in Cambodia, as well as for the urgently needed field research in China to explore the natural habitats of the endemic genus Cuora and to locate remaining populations if they still exist. This research will yield valuable information on the biology and ecology of the species to facilitate the breeding efforts and to take measures for protecting and restoring the original habitats. As one of the partners of the IUCN/SSC Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), the IZS has been stressed within the Global Action Plan for Conservation of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles (Turtle Conservation Fund 2002) as a “critically important facility and a unique partnership between private captive care specialists and a zoo” and the combination of ex situ and in situ conservation measures serves as a model for other institutions.


WAZA Conservation Project 04011 is implemented by Münster Zoo.


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