Rapid DNA tests return trafficked turtles to their original habitats

It’s illegal to trade South American Matamata turtles, but their distinctive knobby shell and ridged neck make them appealing to traffickers who can sell them for high prices in Europe, Asia, and the US. Fortunately, a new rapid DNA test is helping officials protect these little creatures. 

Colombian officials can quickly spot these turtles at the border, but identifying which particular river basin the animals came from is a more difficult task. Sending turtles back to an incorrect basin can have detrimental effects on the natural ecosystem and native turtle populations. This is where DNA testing comes in. 

The tests were developed by marine scientist Demian Chapman and they can identify the origin of turtles in just two hours. Plus, each test only costs one dollar per sample. After a quick swab, researchers can identify where the turtles came from and get them en route back to their natural habitat. Most recently, the tests were used to identify 2,000 Matamata turtles and return them to their home in the Orinoco river basin

The tests have also been used to uncover the origin of illegally traded shark meat and smuggled European eels. Moving forwards, the researchers hope to make the tests available for use in airports around the world to cut down on trafficking. 

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