Trade in spur-thighed tortoises Testudo graeca in Morocco: volumes, value and variation between markets

in Amphibia-Reptilia
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Until the late 1970s spur-thighed tortoises Testudo graeca, endemic to the Mediterranean region, were exported from range countries in large volumes for the pet trade. Testudo graeca was included on CITES Appendix II in 1975, and in 1978 Morocco introduced national protection, banning domestic and international trade. However, the species is still openly traded in Moroccan markets. In 2013-2014 we conducted 48 surveys in 20 Moroccan towns and cities and single surveys in two Spanish exclaves to assess trade levels, size-composition, turnover, and variation between cities. We recorded 3267 T. graeca in 107 shops in 12 cities. Of 989 tortoises measured, two-thirds measured <10 cm (∼2-8 years of age) and <3% could comprise first-year individuals. There is a clear relationship between price and size, with ‘average’ tortoises costing USD 9.20. The largest volumes were observed in Tangier (869) and Rabat (752), two cities that are well-connected centres of export. The largest proportion of shops selling tortoises was in Agadir (78%) and Fez (63%), and turnover was highest in Tangier (32/week) and Casablanca (28/week). Country-wide turnover was ∼30% after two weeks and ∼80% after 10 weeks. Annual turnover was estimated at 3500-7000 tortoises, with a monetary value of USD 30 000-60 000. Predictors for volumes of trade and proportion of shops selling tortoises are: the number of wildlife shops in markets, diversity of wild vertebrate species the shops have on offer, and city population. While legal, large-scale international trade of spur-thighed tortoises from Morocco has diminished over the last decades, domestic smaller-scale trade continues to impede their conservation. Consistent punitive measures are required to enforce new laws.

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Figures
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    Size and age composition of spur-thighed tortoises Testudo graeca observed in trade in 12 markets in Morocco in 2013-2014 (black bars, n=990) and in 1 market (Marrakesh) in 2001 (open bars, n=674; data from Znari et al., 2005). Size refers to carapace size (in cm) and age is inferred from growth curves in Znari et al. (2005).

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    Mean turnover (+/ s.e.m.) of spur-thighed tortoises Testudo graeca in five markets in Morocco based on repeat market surveys. Sample sizes (number of repeats) are indicated at the top. The relationship is described by a logarithmic asymptotic function.

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    Mean asking prices (in US dollar, +/ s.e.m.) of spur-thighed tortoises Testudo gracea in relation to carapace size (in cm) in 12 markets in Morocco between April 2013 and December 2014. Sample sizes (number of independent quotes) is indicated at the top. The relationship is best described by an exponential function. The dashed line indicates the approximate mean price of an ‘average-sized tortoise’ (USD 9.20).

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