One species? How many subspecies? Lets look and see!
The variability of Cuora amboinensis
The genus Cuora - 13 recognized species - the most critically endangered (turtle) genus on this planet. Some are legendary, others are still traded as food or disposable pets and do not receive the attention they deserve. One of them fitting the latter description, rather the one fitting it, is Cuora amboinensis, the type species of the genus Cuora, described in 1802. What is currently regarded as one species with 4 subspecies actually might represent a species complex with undescribed taxa - additional subspecies and/or species, in other words. This potential species complex has the largest distribution area within its genus, ranging from the slopes of the Himalayas in Bhutan through India, Myanmar and Vietnam to the east, and down through Malaysia and most of the Indonesian islands as well as the Philippines to the south. Decades of intensive collection for the global pet trade and especially for the food trade in East Asia has impacted many populations, but C. amboinensis is still one of very few species in the genus that are still common in some areas. The current IUCN threat risk ranking - Vulnerable - is outdated and needs to be reviewed once the taxonomic status of ore populations in this potential species complex is solved. Captive (pure) breeding is occurring, but not as frequently as one would expect for a species that used to be abundant in the pet trade.
Our team, in cooperation with the Turtle Survival Alliance, is working to resolve this issue through a study of range-wide genetic and morphological diversity in C. amboinensis. Currently in progress - stay tuned!