U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973


The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was implemented with the purpose of protecting Threatened and Endangered Plants Wildlife, not only native, but non-native, as well. Whether it meets this purpose is a frequently debated topic. There are number of aspects of this Act that apply to the hobby of keeping turtles and private efforts toward conservation. The long-term purpose of the ESA is to eventually be able to remove the listed species because a restoration program has returned the species to levels where they are not threatened or endangered. In addition to the parts of the Act that prohibit activities of keepers and breeders, there are parts which impact landowners, as well. Here we will focus on the impacts to turtles and their keepers.

Prohibitions Included

  • Import and Export of any listed wildlife
  • Take of wild specimens
  • Interstate and Foreign Commerce or Sale

Impact on Turtle Keepers

The ESA (Endangered Species Act) impacts turtle keepers in the prohibitions listed above. The prohibition hardest on breeders is the inability to participate in interstate commerce (which includes trade or barter) to exchange offspring with other breeders with the goals of maintaining the genetic quality of the colony and moving surplus offspring to keepers desiring to work with the species. Its greatest impact is on the ability of private keepers to help extend the existence of these endangered and threatened species and return them to the wild through breeding and head-start programs. Zoos and Aquariums have it a little easier. They can transfer specimens between each other and recognized programs sponsored by a zoo, aquarium or the government. Permits may be granted to participate in these prohibited activities, however, they are extremely difficult to obtain for many species, especially for species native to the U.S.

For those that do not already possess these species, it is exceptionally difficult to acquire them because of the same prohibitions. Because breeders of these species exist in few states, those outside those states are left with no real way to acquire ESA-listed animals, other than being lucky enough to have someone willing to give them as a documented gift. However, because the cost is so high, that is unusual.

Complete List of Turtles Protected

Up to Date as of April 2021; Source - Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

Species NameCommon NameLocality Protected
Apalone spinifera atraCuatro Cienegas/Black Spiny SoftshellEntire
Astrochelys radiataMadagascar Radiated TortoiseEntire
Astrochelys yniphoraPloughshare TortoiseEntire
Batagur baskaNorthern River TerrapinEntire
Caretta carettaLoggerhead SeaturtleEntire
Chelonia mydasGreen SeaturtleEntire
Chelonoidis nigra ssp.Galapagos TortoisesEntire
Dermatemys mawiiCentral American River TurtleEntire
Dermochelys coriaceaLeatherback SeaturtleEntire
Eretmochelys imbricataHawksbill SeaturtleEntire
Geoclemys hamiltoniiIndian Spotted Pond TurtleEntire
Glyptemys muhlenbergiiBog TurtleEntire
Gopherus agassiziiMojave Desert TortoiseEntire - includes Gopherus morafkai
Gopherus flavomarginatusBolson TortoiseEntire
Gopherus polyphemusGopher TortoiseEntire
Graptemys flavimaculataYellow-Blotched Map TurtleEntire
Graptemys oculiferaRinged Map TurtleEntire
Kinosternon sonoriense longifemoraleSonoyta Mud TurtleEntire
Lepidochelys kempiiKemp's Ridley SeaturtleEntire
Lepidochelys olivaceaOlive Ridley SeaturtleEntire
Melanochelys tricarinataTricarinate Hill TurtleEntire
Mesoclemmys hogeiHoge's Sideneck TurtleEntire
Morenia ocellataBurmese Eyed TurtleEntire
Nilssonia gangeticaIndian Softshell TurtleEntire
Nilssonia hurumIndian Peacock Softshell TurtleEntire
Nilssonia nigricansBlack Softshell TurtleEntire
Pangshura tectaIndian Roofed/Indian Tent TurtleEntire
Podocnemis expansaGiant Amazon River TurtleEntire
Podocnemis unifilisYellow-Headed River TurtleEntire
Psammobates geometricusGeometric TortoiseEntire
Pseudemydura umbrinaWestern Swamp TurtleEntire
Pseudemys alabamensisAlabama Red-Bellied CooterEntire
Pseudemys rubriventrisNorthern Red-Bellied CooterMassachusetts (the former subspecies Pseudemys rubriventris bangsi)
Sternotherus depressusFlattened Musk TurtleEntire
Terrapene coahuilaCoahuilan Box TurtleEntire
Trachemys callirostrisColombian SliderEntire
Trachemys stejnegeri maloneiInagua SliderEntire
Trachemys terrapenJamaican SliderCat Island, Bahamas

The Endangered Species Act of 1973:

Full Text .pdf of the Endangered Species Act (does not include listed species)
U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 50, Part 17 (application of the ESA)

Other Reading on the ESA:

Disclaimer: These links are posted mainly to provide the various opinions that exist on the Endangered Species Act. While we agree with some of the things in these links, we also disagree with some of the things in these links.


  • 50 CFR Pt. 17. 2021. Web. 1 Apr. 2021. https://www.ecfr.gov
  • Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [Rhodin, A.G.J., Iverson, J.B., Bour, R. Fritz, U., Georges, A., Shaffer, H.B., and van Dijk, P.P.]. 2017. Turtles of the World: Annotated Checklist and Atlas of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution, and Conservation Status (8th Ed.). In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Iverson, J.B., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Pritchard, P.C.H., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 7:1-292. doi: 10.3854/crm.7.checklist.atlas.v8.2017, https://iucn-tftsg.org/checklist. Web. Dec. 2017.

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