CITES CoP19 Parties agreed by consensus to a proposal to protect both matamata turtle species, Chelus fimbriata and Chelus orinocensis, whose populations are threatened as the turtles are prized by the pet trade. Final adoption in Plenary is expected by end of week.

The Government of Peru led the proposal, with the co-sponsorship of Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica, to secure international trade regulations for the matamata at the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP19) taking place now in Panama from November 14-25. Peru’s proposal places the matamata on CITES Appendix II, which would allow international commercial trade only if proven sustainable and legal. This inclusion on CITES Appendix II will help ensure exports are legal and sustainable and will stimulate improved management. 

Said Yovana Murillo, WCS Program Manager of Counter Wildlife Trafficking (CWT) Andes-Amazon & Orinoco Region:

“WCS is thankful for the Government of Peru’s leadership at CITES CoP19 for securing international commercial trade regulations for the matamata turtles. This win for the matamata turtles will help ensure they don’t become further endangered or even go extinct, before our eyes, due to over-exploitation.

“Like many turtle species, which are considered one of the most endangered groups of vertebrates in the world, both matamata species, Chelus fimbriata and Chelus orinocensis, found in several Amazon countries, are facing a severe blow to their populations as they are prized by pet traders. The matamata’s strange appearance is exactly why pet dealers and collectors gravitate toward them. They have a shell, which is rough and knobby, and a long flat neck with bumps and ridges and a mouth with a snorkel-like snout.

“This unusual-looking species is legally and illegally traded. According to SERFOR, Peru’s wildlife and forest national authority, China is the main importer with 64.7 percent or about 39,000 individual animals imported from Peru between 2010 and 2020, followed by the United States, the second biggest importer, with 23 percent or more than 14,000 animals. Peru is the only country with legal trade of the matamata, yet confiscation of illegally traded matamata are rising; in Colombia and Brazil, where the trade of matamata is illegal, confiscations are also increasing.

“While we don’t know the actual number left in the wild of matamata, due to difficulties in surveying the population, the confiscation numbers clearly tell us we need to fight to protect these turtles.

“In addition to the stricter trade regulation of matamata, for these species to thrive, we are calling for further research on the conservation status of both species including genetics, biology, threats, trade, and management protocols; strengthening the mechanisms for the exchange of information and monitoring of regional and international confiscation cases that impact wildlife; and strengthening immediate actions upon detection of wildlife trafficking for control authorities and surveillance of legal trade. WCS believes this inclusion on Appendix II will facilitate these actions.”