A team of scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) working in Myanmar have reported the successful recovery of 44 fertile eggs of the critically endangered Burmese roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata) — one of the world’s most endangered turtles with less than five females remaining in the wild.
A combination of overharvesting of eggs, incidental loss in fishing gear, and habitat loss due to gold mining had pushed the species to the brink of extinction. But ongoing conservation work offers a glimmer of hope for the imperiled turtle.
For the past 11 years, WCS scientists have monitored nesting sites awaiting females to emerge from the Chindwin River to dig nests on sand bars. This year, three clutches were found. Two of the clutches contained viable eggs. A third clutch, located in an area far upstream where scientists expect no males exist, contained no viable eggs. Another clutch of four viable eggs was found last December.
WCS scientists say that the number of viable eggs recovered is an improvement over the past few years. 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.
Young male specimen of the endangered turtles released into the wild in 2015 are believed to be responsible for inseminating the wild females. Scientists will conduct DNA tests on the hatchlings. If paternity can be traced to the released males, it would mark a major milestone in the conservation of the species, and Asian river turtles in general. The captive population has grown to over 600 juveniles of all sizes, and conservationists plan to continue to release animals back into the wild.
WCS is working with partners to breed additional Burmese roofed turtles at the Yadanabon Zoo. Last year, WCS and zoo staff modified the turtles’ diet to include more protein and constructed an additional sandy nesting area. This spurred the turtles to nest in both nesting area this year. Rather than excavate the clutches and risk damaging the embryos, WCS advised zoo staff to simply leave the eggs in situ to complete incubation. They have constructed small fences around the nesting areas to intercept the hatchlings as they emerge from the nests in June.
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 turtles and tortoises WCS focuses on two key strategies: reducing the number of adults lost and increasing the number of juvenile turtles entering into the population annually.