China ranks first among Northern hemisphere countries for species richness, but approximately 43% of its species are threatened , with harvesting being the major threat to vertebrates . To protect its biodiversity, China has established about 2,700 nature reserves covering 1.46 million km2 (about 15% of China's territory, a percentage higher than the world average ). With increasing habitat destruction and harvesting, nature reserves are the final refugia for threatened species. However, many Chinese nature reserves are poorly managed, leaving them vulnerable to poaching and other human encroachment . In this study, we conducted a 12-year (2002–2013) case study on turtles to illustrate the damaging impacts China's nature reserves have on wildlife conservation. We discovered that poaching occurred in all of the 56 reserves surveyed, resulting in dramatically reduced turtle populations. In a majority of the reserves, the reserve staff themselves were involved in poaching. Although nature reserves were created to protect plants and animals, they have become part of the problem due to weak enforcement of rules.