Litigation Launched to Push Alligator Snapping Turtles Toward Endangered Species Act Protection.
Declines of Southeast’s ‘Dinosaur of the Turtle World’ Driven by Habitat Destruction, Over exploitation.

ATLANTA— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delay in deciding whether to extend Endangered Species Act protections to the alligator snapping turtle. Known to grow to 200 pounds and live almost 100 years, this turtle has a dinosaur-like appearance with a heavily armored shell, huge claws and powerful beaked jaw. The Center first petitioned for this turtle — along with more than 50 other amphibians and reptiles — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.

“If we don’t act quickly to protect these dinosaurs of the turtle world, they too could go extinct,” said Collette Adkins, a Center biologist and lawyer who works to protect amphibians and reptiles. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving the alligator snapping turtle.”

Early in the 20th century, alligator snapping turtles were abundant in U.S. river systems draining into the Gulf of Mexico, from the waterways and lakes of the upper Midwest to the swamps and bayous of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. But recent population surveys demonstrate the turtles are now likely extirpated in Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, with declines of up to 95 percent over much of their historic range from over harvest and unchecked habitat degradation. A 2014 study found that the alligator snapping turtle is actually three different species and therefore even more endangered than previously thought.

“Alligator snapping turtles have a worm-like lure on their tongue that they use to catch fish,” said Adkins. “It’s so sad that these fascinating animals are being driven toward extinction because we’re polluting their waterways and killing them for food and pets.”

In July the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a “positive finding” on the petition for the turtle and initiated a status review. The Center then submitted extensive additional information on declines of the turtle’s populations, demonstrating the urgent need for protections. The Service is two and a half years late on making a final determination on whether the turtle should be listed.