· Less than five female Burmese roofed turtles remain in the wild
· Hatchlings will be reared in captivity for several years and then released back to wild
· Habitat loss, fishing gear, and overharvesting of eggs among threats
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Yangon, Myanmar (June 15, 2017) –In a boost to their 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). The news follows that of the recovery of 44 viable eggs in the wild reported by WCS on April 11, 2017.
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 5 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 headstarted males—which would mark a major conservation milestone.
Captive turtles are kept in several different locations to protect against all 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.
WCS’s work to protect Myanmar’s endangered turtles is a collaborative effort between the Myanmar Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, particularly the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, and the Turtle Survival Alliance. The work is supported by the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, The Panaphil Foundation, the UNDP-GEF funded “Strengthening Sustainability of Protected Areas Management in Myanmar” project, and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the Macarthur Foundation, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.
WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.
Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)
MISSION: The Turtle Survival Alliance is transforming passion for turtles into effective conservation action through a global network of living collections and recovery programs. VISION: The Turtle Survival Alliance envisions a future with zero turtle extinctions. To achieve our mission, the Turtle Survival Alliance is restoring populations in the wild, where possible, building capacity to resolve, secure and conserve species within their range country and securing species in captivity through breeding programs, both in and outside the range country. Visit: www.turtlesurvival.org; http://www.facebook.com/turtlesurvival; www.instagram.com/turtlesurvival. Follow: @turtlesurvival.