Hatching Hope: 39 Critically Endangered Burmese Roofed Turtles Emerge From Eggs
In a boost to the critically endangered species, 39 Burmese-roofed turtles have hatched in Limpha Village , Myanmar, report scientists from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).
Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society.
This latest success is part of an ambitious “headstart” program initiated by WCS and TSA in 2007 in which the eggs of the Burmese-roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata) are collected from the wild to hatch and raise. These new hatchlings will stay at the WCS/TSA Limpha Village basecamp and be allowed to grow to a size where they can defend themselves from predators (large fish, wading birds and monitor lizards), and after approximately five years, be released to the wild.
Said Steven Platt, WCS Conservation Herpetologist for Southeast Asia. “Every year there is a collective exhale among us when the females emerge and lay their eggs, and it was a thrill to recover so many eggs this year, particularly after some of the disappointing years we’ve had.”
In 2016, only a single viable clutch was found. No viable eggs were produced in 2015; and in 2014, just a single viable egg was deposited. This year, three clutches were found, two of which contained viable eggs. Another clutch of four viable eggs—believed to be a test clutch— was found last December. (Females often lay a "test" clutch and then return later and deposit a full clutch.)
”Seeing the hatchlings is an awe-inspiring sight, particularly when you consider the species was thought extinct as recently as 2001,” continued Platt. ”While there are now 600 turtles of all sizes in the captive population, there is still much work to do to safeguard the future for this species.”
“This program represents a remarkable conservation success story, and though the wild population remains in a perilous state, we have built up the captive numbers to both assure the species’ survival and hopefully restore a wild population,” said Rick Hudson, TSA President and CEO. “From a TSA/WCS partnership perspective, this is one of our proudest achievements.”
Despite the success to date, less than five female Burmese-roofed turtles remain in the wild. A combination of long term collection of eggs dating back almost 100 years, electro-fishing, incidental loss in fishing gear, and habitat loss due to gold mining, has pushed the species to the brink of extinction.
Young male turtles released into the wild as part of a trial reintroduction in 2015 are believed to be responsible for inseminating the wild females. Scientists will conduct DNA tests on the hatchlings, hoping to trace paternity to previously released males—which would mark a major conservation milestone.
Captive turtles are kept in several different locations in order to protect them from perishing in a single catastrophic event related to disease, weather etc.
In 2012, WCS announced a strategy that draws on all of the resources and expertise across the institution – from its Zoos and Aquarium, Global Health Program, and Global Conservation Programs – to take direct responsibility for the continued survival of some of the world’s most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. WCS focuses on two key strategies: reducing the number of adults lost and increasing the number of juvenile turtles entering into the population annually.
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society