We quantified illegal and unmonitored harvest of three endangered sideneck turtles (Podocnemis spp.) by examining discarded turtle shells in 29 riverine communities both up- and down-river from the Arrau Turtle Wildlife Refuge in the Middle Orinoco, Venezuela. We compared harvested turtle sizes to those captured during in-water research surveys to determine harvest selectivity. We found fresh sideneck turtle shells in most communities visited; carapaces and plastrons from P. expansa were the most abundant despite their protected status. Turtle harvest was skewed toward females in all species, and toward juvenile P. expansa and adult P. unifilis and P. vogli. Considering historical accounts of widespread turtle husbandry in the area, Podocnemis spp. life history, and population recovery for these species in community-based conservation programs elsewhere in South America, we recommend community-managed captive breeding of faster-maturing P. unifilis and P. vogli to satisfy turtle consumption needs. These measures, along with improved nesting-beach protection, may allow recovery of populations of P. expansa and make possible their legal subsistence harvest in the future.

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