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Geochelone elegans 

Scope: Global
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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Testudines Testudinidae

Scientific Name: Geochelone elegans
Species Authority: (Schoepff, 1795)
Common Name(s):
English Indian Star Tortoise
Synonym(s):
Testudo actinodes Bell, 1828
Testudo actinoides Bell in Gray, 1844
Testudo elegans Schoepff, 1795
Testudo megalopus Blyth, 1853
Testudo stellata Schweigger, 1812
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: Separate populations of this species demonstrate some phylogeographic structure, with northwestern Indian populations differing from southeastern Indian populations (Gaur et al. 2006). Rangewide phylogeographic studies are clearly needed.

Common names for this species in various regional languages are as follows: Tamil: Nakshatra Amai, Moonam (Irula); Telugu: Nakshatra Tabelu; Oriya: Pathuria Kaincha, Tara Kaincha; Gujarati: Suraj Kachbo, Paththar Kachabo, Kabacha, Jamin no Kachabo; Sinhala, Sinhalese: Thāraka Ibbā, Vehera Ibbā, Mevara Ibbā.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A4cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-12-31
Assessor(s): D'Cruze, N., Choudhury, B.C. & Mookerjee, A.
Reviewer(s): Rhodin, A.G.J., van Dijk, P.P. & Horne, B.D.
Contributor(s): Vyas, R., de Silva, A., Lenin, J. & Noureen, U.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Rhodin, A.G.J.
Justification:
The assessment has considered recent documented levels of exploitation and the suspected future reduction in population size that could occur because of this activity. Available information indicates that this species maintains relatively large populations of >10,000 with an extent of occurrence (EOO) >20,000 km2 and an area of occupancy (AOO) of more than 2,000 km2. These populations are present in both protected areas and in agricultural landscapes in India and Sri Lanka and as a small subpopulation in Pakistan. However, studies have shown that the illegal wildlife trade is increasingly targeting this species to meet apparently increasing international demand for use as ‘exotic pets’. In 2014, more than 55,000 individuals were known to have been collected from just one location (comprised of 16 villages) in India during one year alone (D’Cruze et al. 2015). Extensive conversion of their habitat (scrubland) to less suitable orchards and croplands is likely to reduce populations further in the future. Based on recent past and predicted future declines, a listing of Vulnerable A4cd is proposed given concerns that population reductions of  >30% are likely to occur if this exploitation continues or expands.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Indian Star Tortoises are found in three broadly disjunct (and likely taxonomically recognizable; Gaur et al. 2006) areas of geographic occurrence: northwestern India (Gujarat, Rajasthan) and adjoining southeastern Pakistan; eastern and southern areas from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and eastern Karnataka to Odisha (Orissa); and throughout Sri Lanka (Iverson 1992; Das 1991, 2002; Vyas and Parasharya 2000; Fyfe 2007; Vyas 2010).
Countries occurrence:
Native:
India (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Tamil Nadu); Pakistan; Sri Lanka
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:2000Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Estimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:20000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):Yes
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:

This species naturally inhabits scrub forests, grasslands, and some coastal scrublands of arid and semi-arid regions throughout its wide range (Das 2002), but also commonly inhabits  human-dominated landscapes (Choudhury et al. 2000; de Silva 2003). Frazier (in Das 1991) recorded estimated densities of 4-12.5 animals per hectare in Gujarat. Populations in Sri Lanka are also generally considered common, although the 1998 Sri Lankan CAMP Assessment noted the species as declining and rated it Vulnerable A2cd. Any populations in Pakistan appear to be extremely localized and small (Moll 1983, 1989).

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

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Indian Star Tortoises inhabit a variety of dry vegetation types, including scrublands, grasslands, desert edges and agricultural landscapes of fields, hedgerows and plantations (de Silva 2003; Fyfe 2007). Most localities occur under 200 m altitude, but records from 450 m and even as high as 900 m have been reported (Andrews, pers. comm., 2005). In Sri Lanka, this species occurs throughout the dry habitats up to 270 m altitude (Rathnayake, pers. comm., 2005). Indian Star Tortoises feed mainly on a variety of grasses, herbaceous, succulent vegetation and fruits supplemented with some animal matter (Das 1991; de Silva 2003). Choudhury and Rao (2005) recorded several species of indigenous plant that were preferred by Indian Star Tortoises in a soft release site in Andhra Pradesh. Adult males typically reach up to 26 cm and adult females typically up to 32 cm in carapace length (Moll 1989). Females attain sexual maturity at around 6-7 years of age (possibly earlier) (Das 1991; Vyas, pers. comm., 2005). However, in captivity this may be attained by the age of three years (Choudhury, pers. comm., 2005). Nesting seasons coincide with the monsoons that vary depending on the geographic location (e.g., May to June in western India, March to June and October to January in southeastern India) (Das 2002). Annually, females typically produce two clutches (exceptionally up to four clutches) comprising 2-10 eggs (exceptionally up to 24 eggs; Andrews, Choudhury, Vyas, pers. comm., 2005). Generation time has been estimated to be around 10 years (Choudhury, pers. comm., 2005). A detailed overview of natural history is presented by Das (2002), de Silva (2003), and Fyfe (2007).
Systems:Terrestrial
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):10
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Illegal collection for the international wildlife trade is of most major concern. Widespread collection and export occurs for local and global pet trade, mainly to Malaysia (Shepherd et al. 2004), Singapore and Thailand, as well as other countries in Southeast and East Asia. Das (1989) estimated an annual turn-over of 10,000 animals in Calcutta’s New Market alone in the late 1970s, before enforcement of domestic legislation nearly eliminated this trade. The export trade seems to have developed into the replacement trade outlet (Choudhury and Bhupathy 1993); by 1993, about 5000 tortoises were estimated as illegally exported. A recent conservative estimate of annual pet-trade export is 10,000 to 20,000 animals (mostly juveniles), and four confiscated shipments in 2002-2003 comprised between 305 and 1090 animals per shipment (Shepherd et al. 2004). Most of the pet trade involves small to medium-sized animals, few exceeding 10 cm CL. D’Cruze et al. (2015) reported the illegal collection of at least 55,000 (mostly juvenile) tortoises from just one location (comprising 16 villages) from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India over a period of one year. This figure is three to six times larger than the 10,000–20,000 individuals previously estimated to be poached throughout the entire range of this species each year (Sekhar et al. 2004; Vyas, 2015). The bulk of the trade involves the southern Indian (Andhra Pradesh) populations; there is little evidence of trade from northwestern Indian populations (Gujarat) or Sri Lanka (J. Lenin, pers. comm.).

There are concerns that this species is being illegally smuggled from India into pet markets in Asia, Europe, and the United States (Horne et al. 2012; Vyas, 2015). However, the majority of animals appear to be destined for use as exotic pets in Asian countries, such as Thailand, China, and Malaysia (Shepherd et al. 2004; D’Cruze et al. 2015; Chng and Bouhuys 2015). This species was the most frequent illegally traded tortoise seized by Thai authorities between 2008 and 2013 (5966 individuals during 15 cases) and is the most commonly observed tortoise at the infamous Chatuchak Market in Thailand (Chng 2014). It is also found in markets in Pakistan (U. Noureen, pers. comm.).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Threats to this species survival include illegal collection and habitat loss (WWF 1994; Sekhar 2004; Anand 2005; Fyfe 2007; Vyas 2010). “Illegal collection” can be subdivided into two further categories: collection for utilization by local people and collection for the international wildlife trade (D’Cruze et al. 2015).

Locally, in rural areas, tortoises are sometimes eaten for subsistence. However they are also kept as pets in many homes, their owners believing that they bring good luck and fortune (e.g. Anand, 2005). Over 100 hatchlings have been observed in one urban household in India alone (D’Cruze et al. 2015). In addition, for many people the Star Tortoise plays an even more spiritual role in some societies as they are thought to represent a reincarnation of the Hindu God “Vishnu” (D’Cruze et al. 2015).  In 2015, researchers observed a total of 22 animals at three different Shiva temples in the state of Gujarat, India (D’Cruze et al. 2015).

However, it is illegal collection for the international wildlife trade that is of most major concern. Widespread collection and export occurs for local and global pet trade, mainly to Malaysia (Shepherd et al., 2004), Singapore and Thailand, as well as other countries in Southeast and East Asia. Das (1989) estimated an annual turn-over of 10,000 animals in Calcutta’s New Market alone in the late 1970s, before enforcement of domestic legislation nearly eliminated this domestic trade. Export trade seems to have developed into the replacement trade outlet (Choudhury and Bhupathy 1993); by 1993, about 5000 tortoises were estimated as illegally exported. A recent conservative estimate of annual pet-trade export is 10,000 to 20,000 animals, and four confiscated shipments in 2002-2003 comprised between 305 and 1090 animals per shipment (Shepherd et al. 2004). Most of the pet trade involves small to medium-sized animals, few exceeding 10 cm CL. D’Cruze et al. (2015) reported the illegal collection of at least 55,000 (mostly juvenile) tortoises from just one location (comprising 16 villages) from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India over a period of one year. This figure is three to six times larger than the 10,000–20,000 individuals previously estimated to be poached throughout the entire range of this species each year (Sekhar et al. 2004).

There are concerns that this species is being illegally smuggled from India (and Sri Lanka) into pet markets in Asia, Europe and the United States (de Silva 2003; Horne et al. 2012; Vyas 2015). However, the majority of animals appear to be destined for use as exotic pets in Asian countries, such as Thailand and China (Shepherd et al. 2004; D’Cruze et al. 2015). This species was the most frequent illegally traded tortoise seized by Thai authorities between 2008 and 2013 (5966 individuals during 15 cases) and is the most commonly observed tortoise at the infamous Chatuchak Market in Thailand (Chng 2014).

Habitat loss is occurring throughout the species' range; scrub forest habitat is being converted to orchards and cash crop agriculture, leading to reduction of available area of the preferred habitat type. Although this is a relatively adaptable species, able to tolerate anthropogenically altered habitat, continued habitat loss is likely to further impact wild numbers. 

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Since 1975, this species (as Testudinidae spp.) has been included on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (UNEP-WCMC 2011). Consequently, international trade in specimens can take place if an export permit or re-export permit is acquired (CITES 2015). However, to safeguard its wild populations, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan had chosen to adopt stricter domestic measures than CITES (WWF 1994). For example, the species was placed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and for over 40 years it has been illegal to possess and commercially trade this species either within or from India (Sekhar 2004). However, threat perceptions from illegal trade seem to have substantially increased over this period and there is a case for upgrading the species to Schedule II. The Forest, Environment and Wildlife Department of the Government of Sindh, Pakistan through a notification issued on September 2014, included Geochelone elegans along with other chelonian species of Pakistan in Schedule II (Protected Animals) of Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972.

However, there are concerns that legislation in other Asian countries is being exploited to facilitate illegal wildlife trade (Nijman and Shepherd 2015; D’Cruze et al. 2015). For example, this tortoise is not currently protected under Thailand’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act (WARPA) making it difficult for enforcement authorities to distinguish illegally traded wild sourced individuals from those that have been legally bred in captivity. As such review of existing legislation relating to the commercial use of this species in key consumer countries is warranted.

Given the scale and apparently increasing nature of illegal collection for international wildlife trade, increased cooperation between relevant national enforcement bodies in collaboration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) is also required. However, this enforcement activity should be accompanied by targeted public awareness initiatives that address the increasing consumer demand.

Geochelone elegans has been recorded from Sasan Gir NP (Gujarat), Chinnar WLS (Kerala), Jaisamand WLS (Rajasthan), Marine NP, Kalakkad WLS, Mudumalai WLS, and Point Callimere WLS (Tamil Nadu) in India (Das, 1995; Hanfee, 1999), in all terrestrial protected areas of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in Peninsular India (Choudhury, pers. comm.) and from Yala NP, Bundala NP, Dimbulagala, Giritale and Wilpattu NP in Sri Lanka (de Silva et al. 2000).

In addition, more detailed quantitative research should be carried out in order to establish the impact that this unregulated activity is having on wild populations of this species in range countries. In light of continued habitat loss, status information and monitoring of populations throughout their range, particularly inside protected areas, is also urgently needed. To aid this activity, a taxonomic review of variability between various populations of Indian Star Tortoises (and Burmese Stars) also seems warranted (Gaur et al. 2006; Fyfe 2007). 


Citation: D'Cruze, N., Choudhury, B.C. & Mookerjee, A. 2016. Geochelone elegans. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T39430A2926441. . Downloaded on 26 August 2016.
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