Asian Softshell Turtles

*** Update: Read about the outcomes of our proposals at CoP16.

To conserve and protect Asian softshell turtles, it is necessary to take a broad family approach, rather than a species-by-species approach. This rationale is founded on observations that, over the last 12 years, turtles, especially in the Asian region, continue to be under severe threat from over-exploitation driven by international trade.

Given the trade patterns, history, and biology of turtles, the United States believes a piecemeal approach to listing turtles, a few species at a time, is not an effective strategy. A family-level approach is precautionary and aims to protect presently exploited animals as well as animals that may become exploited as trade shifts from depleted or regulated species to those that are more abundant and unregulated. While we considered including all species of the family, we ultimately chose to focus on the species with the greatest and most immediate threat in the Asian region, and we also note that the majority of species in this family are found in the Asian region.

Leith's Softshell Turtle (Aspideretes [=Nilssonia] leithii)

Leith's softshell turtle is a representative member of the Asian Softshell turtle family (Trionychidae) and is one of 8 Asian softshell turtle species that have been proposed pdf for listing in Appendix II. Two additional Asian softshell species, Chitra chitra and Chitra vandijki, have been proposed for transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I.

CITES Status | Taxonomy | Description | Habitat | Distribution | Threats


CITES Status

Leith's Softshell Turtle, Credit: Turtle Survival Alliance

Leith's softshell turtle is not listed in CITES.  Proposed pdf for Appendix II listing by the United States and China at CoP16.


Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Trionychidae
Genus: Aspideretes
Species: leithii


Leith’s softshell turtle is a large species, which may reach 60cm (almost 2 ft) and weigh 30kg (66 lbs).  It has a grey to olive green carapace (top shell) covered in a leathery skin (like all softshell turtles).  The species has a medium-sized head with a pointed snout and the skin on the neck and head has distinctive lines and spots.


Leith's softshell turtles inhabit rivers and creeks with muddy bottoms, turbid waterways, swamps, canals and artificial ponds.


Found only in peninsular India (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu).


Although the species was once common through much of its range, it has disappeared mainly due to siltation and drying up of rivers during the summer. Domestic and international trade were major factors in its decline.  The species is known to have been heavily exploited in India for domestic consumption, although the current status of harvest is not known; it remains a highly sought after species in domestic trade.  International trade, primarily for the food and medicinal markets in East Asia, principally China, is known to still occur; although the numbers of turtles involved is not known, the species is in high demand.

Additional Information

  • Check out our fact sheet pdf to learn how CITES can help protect Asian softshell turtles.
  • Read the proposal pdf submitted by the United States and China for consideration at CoP16.
  • To learn about the unsustainable turtle trade and CITES' efforts to regulate it, read Shell-Shocked: Trade in Turtles Threatens Species pdf, an article published in the Winter 2013 Issue of FWS News.
  • To read the entire FWS News spotlight on CITES, visit our Articles page.