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

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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.

Affiliations: 1: Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group, Oxford Brookes University, Gipsy Lane, Oxford OX3 0BP, UK

*Corresponding author; e-mail:

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