NEWSFLASH! Microchip saves extremely rare royal turtle!
|A mangrove turtle (Batagur baska)|
Cambodia and Vietnamese conservationists are congratulating themselves these days. They foiled would-be poachers and in the process, saved an extremely rare royal turtle from being eaten in China. A tiny microchip implanted in the turtle's skin saved the reptile.
Vietnamese wildlife inspectors recently stopped the smuggler at a checkpoint in Tay Ninh Province between Cambodia and Vietnam and discovered among the other more common turtles, a hefty 33-pound Batagur baska turtle -- or mangrove turtle as it is commonly called because of the mangrove fruit it eats. Using a special reading device, Vietnamese wildlife inspectors quickly learned that the turtle came from Cambodia. This turtle was once considered the exclusive property of Cambodia's Royal Family and was last seen in March, 2003 in the Sre Ambel River. This species is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Doug Hendrie, the Asian turtle coordinator for Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society, praised the cooperation between the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments.
"The population in Sre Ambel is small and every turtle counts," said Hendrie, who is stationed in Vietnam and works with Asian governments, non-government organizations, institutions, agencies, and individuals to develop well-managed captive turtle colonies. "I hope that we can see more of this type of positive cooperation between regional governments. This case involves one very important turtle, and is an excellent opportunity to build upon this success."
Particularly important to Hendrie is the many "firsts" that saving this turtle brought about. According to Hendrie, it was the first time that an animal of any type has been repatriated across borders and returned to its habitat of origin. It was also the first time that a microchip implanted in a turtle has been used to identify origin in an enforcement action in that part of the world. The microchips are implanted for research purposes, mainly to identify animals that are recaptured and learn about movement and habitat use.
Mangrove turtles are is critically endangered across its range, which includes India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra (Indonesia), Thailand, and Cambodia. Wild populations show remarkable declines over the past 15 years with fewer and fewer nesting females returning to nest each year universally reported throughout the range. The Cambodian Batagur baska population is small with reportedly between two to eight females. Batagur baska was rediscovered in 2001 by scientists.
Every day, tons of turtles are poached in Asia for sale in Chinese food markets. This unsustainable trade has had a tremendous impact on turtle populations across Asia, where almost one third of all turtle species reside. Many are now threatened with extinction. Turtles are important to the natural ecosystems in which they live as seed propagators and as food sources for other animals.
The Turtle Crisis
Turtles have existed for hundreds of millions of years. They are important to the natural ecosystems in which they live as seed propagators and as food sources for other animals. They are also revered in the histories and myths of many indigenous cultures.
Out of the 200 or so different species of turtles that exist today, almost one third are found in Asia. Unfortunately, many of these turtles are facing extinction due in part to unsustainable hunting for food and traditional medicines.
Every day, tons of turtles are poached in Asia for sale in Chinese food markets. This unsustainable trade has had a tremendous impact on turtle populations across Asia, where almost one third of all turtle species reside. Many are now threatened with extinction.
Turtle Husbandry and Veterinary Care Workshop
Dr. Hugh Quinn, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's former general curator, recently taught sessions at a turtle husbandry and veterinary care workshop sponsored by the Turtle Survival Alliance and the Singapore Zoological Gardens. About 45 zoo and aquarium personnel, veterinarians, professors, graduate students, field researchers, and wildlife and animal rescue workers from Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the U.S. participated.
In addition to Dr. Quinn, instructors Doug Hendrie, Asian Turtle Coordinator, Bill Holmstrom, Wildlife Conservation Society collection manager, Dwight Lawson, Zoo Atlanta's general curator, and Chris Tabaka, Detroit Zoological Institute veterinarian addressed a wide range of topics concerning the Asian turtle crisis.
Participants evaluated the workshop by commenting on what topics should be kept, dropped, enhanced, and added. This information is important, as the course will be offered again in 2005 in Hong Kong, targeting participants from China.
Support to conduct this workshop was provided in part by Association of Zoos & Aquariums Conservation Endowment Fund and the Cleveland Zoological Society.
As a spin-off of the workshop, a Batagur turtle (river terrapin) working group was formed to help coordinate conservation efforts for that critically endangered species.
Zoo visitors can see Batagur turtles that were rescued from a confiscated, illegal shipment at The RainForest.
Through a series of grants, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society hired Doug Hendrie as Asian Turtle Coordinator to help reduce this threat on tortoises and freshwater turtles. Doug, who is stationed in Vietnam, works with Asian governments, non-government organizations, institutions, agencies and individuals to develop well managed captive turtle colonies. He also works on research projects relevant to turtle conservation, and is developing a regional strategy for controlling turtle hunting and trade.