A model assessing the conservation threats to freshwater turtles of Sub-Saharan Africa predicts urgent need for continental conservation planning

  • Luca Luiselli
Brief Communication


Global assessment of conservation threats to several taxonomic groups are urgently needed for species living in regions of the world where field research is curtailed by logistic or economic constraints. For instance, it is now widely recognized that freshwater turtles represent one of the most endangered groups of vertebrates in the world. This situation has been particularly evident with Asian species. Although in Sub-Saharan Africa species are exposed to very similar threats (e.g., intense hunting for food and traditional medicine, habitat loss, collection for the pet trade, etc.), there is no comparable concern in the international conservation community simply because the African species are still too poorly known. Here, I propose a model for analyzing the threat levels to freshwater turtles of Sub-Saharan Africa and I test this model by taking into consideration a series of six risk variables of distribution and ecology. Each variable was categorized into five ranks (0–4) of increasing survival risk. The results, although preliminary, show a great sensitivity of most species. This strongly contrasts with the fact that apart from Malagasy endemics very few species are currently considered as threatened according to IUCN lists. There were clear differences among-families in the major threats. Softshell turtles are especially threatened because their large body size makes them a very good food source for native populations. The single podocnemidid species is also vulnerable, and is particularly sensitive to human hunting for domestic consumption. Concerning the Pelomedusidae, there are several species that are considered by the model as sensitive or highly sensitive to rarity. They are affected by a combination of threats (Extent of distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa, Habitat breadth, Habits, Likeliness of human direct/indirect persecution, and Habitat vulnerability). The conservation implications of these results are discussed.


Africa Conservation Ecology Freshwater turtles Multivariate analyses 



I gratefully thank The Turtle Conservation Fund (year 2004), Conservation International, the Chelonian Research Foundation, and the institutions Demetra s.r.l., Snamprogetti s.p.a., and Agip Nigeria for having funded several steps of my field research in Africa, that have been the scientific background of this article. Four anonymous reviewers are thanked for having considerably improved a previous draft of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre of Environmental Studies ‘Demetra s.r.l.’ and F.I.Z.V.RomeItaly

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