Many species of tortoise and freshwater turtle have declined very seriously due to the modification of their habitat and the demand for animals by the pet trade.
Every country in the Asian region has national legislation that affords at least some protection to at least some turtle species. In addition, all countries except Bhutan and Lao PDR are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the provisions of which should be implemented through national legislation. Overall, the scope and extent of the existing laws is adequate to protect most turtle species, though not all.
By contrast, enforcement frequently insufficient. In every country, the inability of customs officers, wildlife enforcement agency staff and others to identify turtle species with any accuracy is a serious obstruction to effective enforcement. Without being able to identify animals in trade, it is nearly impossible to determine which species are traded legally and which are illegal. This problem is exploited by traders, who intentionally misidentify and make false declarations of the contents of shipments.
An expert group meeting in 1999 made four key recommendations for improvement of the legal protection of turtles and control of the turtle trade emerged in almost every country presentation and discussion session: (1) Increased enforcement of existing legislation and regulations; (2) Provision of turtle identification materials in local languages; (3) Training of customs, law enforcement and wildlife conservation personnel; (4) Review and, where necessary, clarification and improvement of national legislation.
Viet Nam has been enforcing its own conservation laws and stopping overland shipments of turtles headed into China. Many turtles are taken in Laos, where the price is relatively low.
'Kurma Asih', meaning turtle lovers, is a Balinese community-based organization which aims to protect turtles. Near their village is Prancak Beach, a three-kilometre stretch of black sand and one of the few remaining known nesting sites for Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles in Bali. For generations sea turtles swam hundreds of kilometres to lay their eggs on Prancak beach where they were born. Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles are about 30 years old when they start to make the long voyage back to the beach of their birth to lay their eggs. Once they flourished at Prancak, but demand for their eggs and meat was great and perhaps as many as 50 nesting females and their eggs would be taken from the beach each day to supply the demand in Denpasar, the island's capital. Over the years, however, such unsustainable exploitation of nesting females took its toll, so that by the 1950s the numbers on the beach were declining. At the end of the decade, no Olive Ridley turtles were recorded nesting on Prancak. The first reappeared in June 1997 and in 1998, more than 600 eggs were successfully hatched, and now Kurma Asih is not only looking after Prancak's turtles but also educating people from other villages about the animals. Everyone is involved in the effort to protect the turtles - even the local fishermen, who themselves catch turtles, donate sardines to feed them.
Because prices in the pet trade are directly related to the rarity of a species, the pet trade poses a particularly significant risk to rare species. Meanwhile, captive breeding of such species as pets becomes less attractive economically because of 'four-inch-rules' imposed by the United States, Canada and some European Union countries. These regulations make the import of hatchlings or juveniles under 10 cm shell length illegal and thus force the pet trade to deal in larger, wild-collected animals.