lost turtles and tortoises

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Our top “most wanted” lists by groups of species include those species that have been lost to science for at least a decade (and often for much longer!) and, like our top 25 “most wanted” species, may be lost for a variety of reasons. We worked with various IUCN Species Survival Commission Specialist Groups and other partners to determine these lists of flagship species. In some cases, biologists may be actively out searching—or interested in going out to search—for these species. In other cases, these species represent the kinds of compelling stories that can help raise their group’s public profile, even if nobody is out actively looking. They represent a broad geographical reach, and may present opportunities for inspiring conservation action. Read more about GWC's Turtle Program.

Fernandina Galápagos Tortoise
Scientific Name: CHELONOIDIS PHANTASTICUSLast Seen: 1906Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Update (02.20.19) We are awaiting the results of genetic testing to confirm the rediscovery of the Fernandina Galápagos Tortoise in the Galápagos.

Only one individual Fernandina Tortoise has ever been confirmed—on Fernandina Island, the youngest and least-explored of the Galápagos Islands. According to Himalayan mountaineering legend Eric Shipton, the odds of rediscovering a Fernandina Tortoise were at least better than those of finding a Yeti. An expedition in 1964 discovered putative tortoise droppings, and a fly-over in 2009 reported sightings of something tortoise-like from the air, renewing hope that this species may yet be holding on.

See photos about finding this female tortoise on Fernandina Island below.

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Viesca Mud Turtle
Scientific Name: KINOSTERNON HIRTIPES MEGACEPHALUMLast Seen: 1961Year Found: TBDYears Lost: 59Red List Status: Not Evaluated

The Viesca Mud Turtle is currently classified as a subspecies of the Rough-footed Mud Turtle, though some researchers have considered it to represent its own species. It was last seen in the Coahuila state of Mexico, though its range could potentially extend from Coahuila into nearby Durango as well. It has been presumed extinct since about 1970, but scientists have been unable to do thorough field studies in the area due to safety concerns.

Nubian Flapshell Turtle
Scientific Name: CYCLANORBIS ELEGANSLast Seen: ABOUT 2000 – 2 TRADED SPECIMENS, ENDED UP IN A PRIVATE COLLECTION IN NEW YORK, NOW BOTH DECEASEDYears Lost: 20Red List Status: Critically Endangered

The Nubian Flapshell Turtle was last seen nearly two decades ago. Two individuals were collected from West Africa in 2000 and ended up in a private collection. Since then, no surveys of its range have successfully recovered any individuals, though local fishermen have reported unconfirmed sightings. It is thought to inhabit large rivers in the Sahel zone of Africa, specifically in parts of Ghana and Togo, and various regions east to South Sudan.

Pinta Island Tortoise
Scientific Name: CHELONOIDIS ABINGDONIILast Seen: LONESOME GEORGE, AND REMAINS OF A FEMALE SHELL, FOUND IN THE WILD IN 1972; LONESOME GEORGE DIED IN CAPTIVITY 2012Year Found: TBDYears Lost: 48Red List Status: Extinct

The last known Pinta Island Tortoise, the famous "Lonesome George" at the Charles Darwin Research Station, died in June 2012 after 40 years in captivity, thus rendering the species extinct. Field Surveys of Pinta Island have not found any other individuals of this species, though hybrids exist near Volcan Wolf on the northern part of Isabela Island. Some of the hybrids found in 2013 were juveniles, and researchers believe that one adult might have full C. abingdoni DNA.

Floreana Island Tortoise
Scientific Name: CHELONOIDIS NIGERLast Seen: ABOUT 1850Year Found: TBDYears Lost: 170+

The Floreana Galapagos Tortoise has been considered extinct since 1850, though hybridized tortoises of this species have been found on the northern region of Isabela Island near Volcan Wolf.  It’s estimated that early populations of this species reached numbers as high as 8,000 individuals in the earlier half of the 19th century, and were driven to extinction by 1850 presumably by mariners that needed sustenance and sources for oil.

Chinese Red-necked Turtle
Scientific Name: MAUREMYS NIGRICANSLast Seen: STILL ALIVE IN CAPTIVITYYears Lost: N/ARed List Status: Endangered

Rampant pet collection and trade has driven the Chinese Red-necked Turtle, one of the rarest aquatic species in China, to near or possible extinction in the wild. The species’ habitat, forested hill streams of southern China, is also at risk with the threat of degradation in the area. Field surveys in its possible range will determine how many individuals remain in the wild, and whether suitable habitat persists where the re-introduction of captive-bred Individuals could potentially recover this species into the wild.

Roti Snake-necked Turtle
Scientific Name: CHELODINA MCCORDILast Seen: STILL ALIVE IN CAPTIVITY; A POPULATION OF THE DIFFERENT SUBSPECIES C. M. TIMORENSIS PERSISTS IN TIMOR-LESTE.Years Lost: N/ARed List Status: Critically Endangered

The Roti Snake-necked Turtle’s population has been jeopardized over the last couple of decades as a direct result of the pet trade’s insatiable appetite for this exclusive species . It is only known to have existed on the Indonesian Island of Roti and in Timor-Leste, although recent field surveys in Roti have failed to find any individuals of this particular species. A subspecies of C. mccordi has persisted in Timor-Leste and island leaders have declared its habitat protected under their traditional laws. Captive breeding groups of the Roti form exist and it should be possible that this species will be recovered through reintroduction into suitable habitat once that is securely protected from poaching.

Chinese Box Turtles

This entire group of Chinese Box turtles has possibly gone extinct as a result of the unbridled over-collection for the international pet trade. Despite many field surveys in search of these turtles, scientists have not ever found several in the wild, yet they exist in captivity and still on occasion appear in trade. Little is known about most of these species, for some, even their country of origin remains a mystery. According to Peter Paul van Dijk, deputy chair of the IUCN SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, "the chances of a biologist finding one of the Chinese Cuora in the wild is akin to finding a ten-carat diamond on a beach."

Yunnan Box Turtle
Scientific Name: CUORA YUNNANENSISLast Seen: 2004Years Lost: 16Red List Status: Critically Endangered
McCord's Box Turtle
Scientific Name: CUORA MCCORDILast Seen: 1980sYears Lost: 40+Red List Status: Critically Endangered

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