Rafetus euphraticus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Testudines Trionychidae

Scientific Name: Rafetus euphraticus (Oliver in Daudin, 1801)
Common Name(s):
English Euphrates Softshell Turtle
Testudo euphratica Olivier in Daudin, 1801
Testudo rafcht Olivier 1807
Trionyx euphraticus (Olivier in Daudin, 1801)
Taxonomic Source(s): TTWG [Turtle Taxonomy Working Group: van Dijk, P.P., Iverson, J.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B. and Bour, R.]. 2014. Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7): 000.329-479, doi:10.3854/crm.5.000.checklist.v7.2014.
Taxonomic Notes:

Previously placed in the genus Trionyx, euphraticus was placed in the resurrected genus Rafetus by Meylan (1987), and this has been widely accepted as such (Fritz and Havas 2007, TTWG 2014).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A4c ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-05-28
Assessor(s): Ghaffari, H., Taskavak, E., Turkozan, O. & Mobaraki, A.
Reviewer(s): Rhodin, A.G.J., van Dijk, P.P. & Horne, B.D.
Contributor(s): Iverson, J.B.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): van Dijk, P.P., Rhodin, A.G.J.
Listed as Endangered because of serious population declines, estimated to be as much as 50% over the last 15 years, inferred from observed reduction in the extent of its habitat. While the percentage decline over time is difficult to estimate in the absence of historical records or even present data from substantial parts of the range, the systemic impacts of documented threats (dam effects, marsh drainage, wars and political conflicts) have lead to habitat fragmentation, destruction and desertification, such that a >50% population reduction over three generations (estimated at 45 years, with 15 years per generation) is realistic and possibly an underestimate. Rafetus euphraticus was listed as Endangered under criteria A1ac+2c (version 2.3) in the 2003 IUCN Red List. It is certainly a Critically Endangered species in Turkey, CR A2bc, and probably in Syria and Iran as well. In Iraq, encompassing the majority of its range, the species probably qualifies globally as Endangered, EN A4c.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The distribution of Rafetus euphraticus extends from southeastern Turkey (Anatolia) to the northwestern extent of the Persian Gulf, encompassing the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and their tributaries, lakes, ponds, and marshlands in Syria, Iraq, and southwestern Iran (Taskavak et al. 2016). It occurs from about 1,000 m down to near sea level (Baran and Atatur 1998).

Countries occurrence:
Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Syrian Arab Republic; Turkey
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):1000
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


Little information is available on Rafetus euphraticus populations in most of its distribution, especially in Syria and Iraq, which comprise the bulk of its range. Gramentz (1993b) documented the extinction of a R. euphraticus population at Kirkiz, on the upper Euphrates, in Turkey, and considered low water temperatures caused by altered water flow dynamics resulting from the 1991 start of operation of the Ataturk dam to be the cause. The species is declining in Turkey because of dams and sand quarries. A total of 17 individuals in 14 different habitats were observed in 30 days in Turkish tributaries of the Euphrates; no individuals were observed along the main arm of the Euphrates, since no suitable habitats were left for nesting or basking, indicating a strong reduction in the previously observed population there (Ayaz and Bayrakçı 2015). The population in Iran is rather small, but well studied (Ghaffari et al. 2008, 2013, 2014).

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Rafetus euphraticus is almost exclusively riverine, inhabiting various freshwater habitats, preferably permanent and temporary tributaries and oxbow lakes, as well as slow-flowing sections of the main river channel (Gramentz 1991, Taskavak and Atatur 1998, Ghaffari et al. 2014, Taskavak et al. 2016). The species is particularly thermophilic (Taskavak and Atatur 1998). Rafetus euphraticus feeds mainly on crabs, insects, and fish, but also scavenges and takes some vegetable material (Taskavak and Atatur 1998, Taskavak et al. 2016). Nests are placed in sandy riverbanks close to the waterline. The nesting season in Iran extends from late April to early June, with mating observed in March; hatchlings emerge from their nest in early July (Ghaffari et al. 2013, Taskavak et al. 2016). Reported clutch sizes average 30–40 eggs (Taskavak and Atatur 1998, Baran and Atatur 1998, Biricik and Tugra 2011, Ghaffari et al. 2013, Taskavak et al. 2016), but there is no information on clutch frequency, age or size at maturity, or generation time. Eggs are spherical in shape and 29.5 mm in diameter and the average weight is 13.6 g (Biricik and Tuğra 2011); the mean size of hatchlings is 41.5 mm and the mean weight 10.8 g (Ghaffari et al. 2013). Maximum size is 68 cm carapace length and generation time is estimated at about 15 yrs.

Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater
Generation Length (years):15

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: No trade or widespread consumption of this species has been reported. A few animals are consumed by various ethnic groups (Taskavak et al. 2016).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Anthropogenic fragmentation, alteration, and destruction of suitable habitat throughout its range are the main threats to Rafetus euphraticus (Taskavak et al. 2016). Major dams cause fundamental changes to water quality and the flow regime downstream, making it impossible for R. euphraticus to survive in long downstream riverine stretches. The loss of sandbank nesting habitat through flooding and sand mining is also a serious threat (Gramentz 1991, 1993b; Taskavak and Atatur 1998; Taskavak et al. 2016). The use of pesticides in agricultural fields next to riverbanks causes pollution along the tributaries (Ayaz and Bayrakçı 2015). The draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes in southeastern coastal Iraq and southwestern Iran after the 1991 Gulf War is likely to have impacted Iraqi populations significantly. Animals accidentally caught by fishermen may be killed as perceived competitors, and nests destroyed (Taskavak and Atatur 1998, Baran and Atatur 1998, Ghaffari et al. 2014, Mobaraki in litt.). Animals are occasionally consumed; in Iran the turtles are not consumed by locals but it is reported that Chinese employees of the National Iranian Oil Company consume turtles in Hawr-al-Azim marshland along the border of Iraq (Taskavak and Reimann 1998, Ghaffari et al. 2014, Taskavak et al. 2016). In Iraq, various wars and political conflicts, drought, dam construction, unsustainable fishing methods, especially electro-fishing, and the use of poisons and explosive materials are the main concerns for Rafetus survival. Furthermore, oil development, especially in southern Iraq and gravel mining in northern rivers threatens R. euphraticus populations (Taskavak et al. 2016). No information is available on threats to R. euphraticus in Syria, where it occupies territories under severe political unrest and turmoil (Taskavak et al. 2016). The Chinese Soft Shell, Pelodiscus sinensis, has been imported into Iran illegally and has the potential to become a competitor for R. euphraticus (Ghaffari et al. 2014).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Throughout its distribution in Iran, the killing or capture of Rafetus is legally prohibited. In Turkey, the species is under protection of national law, and in 2016 the Ministry of Environment announced a Conservation Action Plan for the species for the 2016-2021 term (Ayaz and Bayrakçı, 2015). There is no evidence yet of international trade in the species, but it was recently (October 2016) listed on CITES II (as Rafetus spp.) in conjunction with the CITES II listing of all African softshells (Cyclanorbis spp., Cycloderma spp., Trionychidae Rafetus euphraticus and Trionyx spp.) that are being increasingly impacted by unsustainable consumption and unregulated domestic (in Africa) and growing international trade. The species occurs in several protected areas in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

Citation: Ghaffari, H., Taskavak, E., Turkozan, O. & Mobaraki, A. 2017. Rafetus euphraticus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T19070A1956551. . Downloaded on 15 December 2017.
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