Cycloderma frenatum 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Testudines Trionychidae

Scientific Name: Cycloderma frenatum
Species Authority: Peters, 1854
Common Name(s):
English Zambezi Flapshell Turtle
Aspidochelys livingstonii Gray, 1860
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.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A3d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-06-03
Assessor(s): van Dijk, P.P.
Reviewer(s): Rhodin, A.G.J., Luiselli, L., Branch, W.R., Rödel , M.-O. & Horne, B.D.
Contributor(s): Baker, P.J. & Naskrecki, P.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Rhodin, A.G.J.

While Cycloderma frenatum could possibly be assessed as Data Deficient based on lack of recent range-wide knowledge of population status and impacts, the ongoing intensive exploitation and resulting population collapse in the species’ core stronghold of Lake Malawi argues for a threatened assessment, with an estimated 70% reduction of the population in that region within the next decade or two being a realistic prospect, and a probable 50% reduction overall in its total range. This qualifies the species for Endangered (EN A3d). Cycloderma frenatum was last assessed in 1996, as Near Threatened.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

Cycloderma frenatum inhabits rivers and lakes in eastern Africa, from the Rufiji River basin in Tanzania in the north through Lake Malawi and the Rufiji, Rovuma, and Lower Zambezi river basins, extending south to the lower Save (Sabi) river of southeastern Zimbabwe and central Mozambique (Iverson 1992, Boycott and Bourquin 2000, Branch 2008, Gramentz 2008). It has also been recorded in Zambia (Loveridge and Williams 1957).

Countries occurrence:
Malawi; Mozambique; Tanzania, United Republic of; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Additional data:
Lower elevation limit (metres):1
Upper elevation limit (metres):500
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


No population information is available, other than anecdotal observations that the species was previously common in Lake Malawi and the upper Shire River (Mitchell 1946, cited by Gramentz 2008; Broadley and Sachsse 2011). In Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique the species is still frequently observed in Lake Urema and adjacent flooded regions.

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

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Habitat usage by Cycloderma frenatum is poorly known; adults have been recorded mainly from large rivers and lakes, while hatchlings apparently inhabit floodplain marshes. In Gorongosa National Park some large individuals apparently undertake seasonal migrations from the permanent Lake Urema to temporarily flooded areas, which are many kilometers from the lake (P. Naskrecki, pers. comm). Areas with sandy rather than muddy substrates appear to be preferred (Gramentz 2008, Broadley and Sachsse 2011). Cycloderma frenatum ranges from 500 m altitude in Lake Malawi to just above sea level.

Available information suggests that C. frenatum feeds mainly on clams and snails; other food like fish, aquatic insects, crustaceans and amphibians may be consumed on occasion (review by Gramentz 2008). Maximum size is unknown; few recorded animals exceed 56 cm straight carapace length (CL), but there are indications animals may get substantially larger. Reported maximum weight correspondingly varies from 13-14 to 18 kg (reviews by Gramentz 2008, and Broadley and Sachsse 2011). No information has been reported on growth rates, age or size at maturity, longevity, or generation time; by analogy with other large softshelled turtles, a generation time of 15 to 20 years may be assumed for this molluscivore species of permanent waterbodies. Adult females produce clutches of 15-25 eggs, and available data indicate that multiple clutches per year are likely. Hatchlings measure 40-48 mm SCL and weigh about 15 g (Gramentz 2008, Broadley and Sachsse 2011).
Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater
Generation Length (years):15-20
Movement patterns:Unknown

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Cycloderma frenatum is known to be used for local subsistence consumption; whether this occurs after incidental catch of animals in the course of fishing activities, or the species is subject to targeted collection, is not clear. Eggs and nesting females are known to be collected / captured and consumed (overview by Gramentz 2008, Broadley and Sachsse 2011). The species has been reported in the international pet trade (Cheung and Dudgeon 2006), but not in any great numbers. Reports have emerged in recent years, up through the present, of repeated occurrences of organized and illegal collection practices within the Lake Malawi biosphere reserve, with large numbers of adults being caught, slaughtered, and processed locally in Mangochi for export of shells and dried meat to China and East Asia (P.P. van Dijk and A.G.J. Rhodin, confidential sources).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): While eggs and animals of Cycloderma frenatum are known to be subject to collection and local consumption, the impact of this on populations remains largely unknown. Likewise the impact of collection for international trade, especially in the area of Lake Malawi, destined primarily for the East Asian consumption and medicinal trade, remains unquantified, but is potentially severe (by analogy of such impacts on Asian and North American softshell turtle populations). The species has also been observed in the pet trade in Hong Kong (Cheung and Dudgeon 2006). Water pollution has additionally been suggested as a potential impact on the species (Gramentz 2008).

Crocodiles still survive in many of the rivers where the species occurs, but their diet has probably shifted as normal food resources have declined. Large and middle-sized mammals, waterfowl and large fish are all reduced in these areas due to human exploitation; crocodiles may therefore have shifted their prey in part to large flapshell turtles. Recent exploitation and sales of flapshell turtles are probably resulting from the massive influx of Chinese construction workers and crews extracting hardwoods from the miomo and mopane forests in Mozambique. Timber and dried turtle shells appear to be shipped out in containers returning to China (W.R. Branch, in litt).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Cycloderma frenatum is not protected or regulated under international legislation; its status under national legislation in its range countries is unreported. It is known to occur in several protected areas, including Gorongosa and Zinave National Parks (NP) and Niassa Game Reserve in Mozambique and Gonarezhou NP in Zimbabwe. Better data on distribution, status, population density and trends, and threats and conservation measures, are needed. Monitoring of key populations and surveillance of trade developments are needed as priority actions.

Citation: van Dijk, P.P. 2016. Cycloderma frenatum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T6009A3088072. . Downloaded on 28 October 2016.
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