For the last three months, Tortoises have been sold for 60,000 birr to 400,000 birr at local markets. Rumors have spread, falsely claiming that their shells consist of mercury and that this could block phone and Internet networks.
What are commonly named leopard tortoises are being sold in Debre Birhan, Gonder, Addis Ababa, Awash and along the borders of Djibouti. According to the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) there is no tangible evidence that these turtles have the uses they are being sold for.
Daniel Pawlos, EWCA Wild Life Traffic Director responded to the problem saying “we are telling people not to be misled by cheaters who tell them to buy tortoises for profit. There are no scientific results indicating that tortoise shells have mercury used for blocking networks and we are expressing this fact to the public.’’
“There are no foreign or local buyers who want the shells of these animals. We have observed people dropping tortoises on the road after they purchase them for a huge sum of money based on false information.’’
“All living creatures in Ethiopia have the right to life and protection. We decisively warn against hunting tortoises,” he added. Daniel said the only legal way to sell leopard tortoises is by exporting them to the Asian market for medicine.
Currently, an estimated 200,000 leopard tortoises are found in the low land areas of Ethiopia. The leopard tortoise species has been listed in Appendix II of CITES since 1975 in which trade must be controlled to protect it from extinction. Small Leopard Tortoises are occasionally killed and eaten by pastoralists in southern Ethiopia and their empty shells are used as cowbells. While in Somalia Leopard Tortoises are collected mainly for medicinal purposes and considered an aphrodisiac and the turtle-derived medicines are specially used to treat lung diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma and cough. Declines in some areas of East Africa have been attributed to unsustainable harvest for the pet trade. Some tortoises in East African counties including Ethiopia have also been known to be killed by frequent fires common in this region, although the species is perceived to hold stable overall. In South Sudan, habitat burning impacts may be sufficiently widespread to have impacted populations.