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There is much reason to celebrate in Bangladesh with the recent discovery of TWO additional Sundarbans Batagur, or Northern River Terrapins (Batagur baska). The first was a healthy adult female that was discovered by Rupali Ghosh (TSA) in a private pond. This beautiful female was living on her own in the small village pond, but has since been added to the breeding colony managed at Bhawal National Park, bringing the number of females in that group to six. Here she will be able to contribute to the genetic diversity, and ultimately survival, of this critically endangered species.
The same week, Rupali also recovered another wild caught hatchling, discovered by fishermen. This is the third hatchling found this year – huge news considering that this species was considered to have no wild breeding populations remaining!
Rupali and her team will continue their grassroots work in the area, visiting with fishermen and villagers in an attempt to locate the breeding population and protect the area. If the habitat is suitable, it may represent a potential future release site for this species as the breeding program continues to flourish.
Many kudos to Rupali and our partners in this project: Vienna Zoo, Bangladesh Forest Department, IUCN Bangladesh and SOS – Save Our Species.
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The Sundarbans Batatgur or Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) is generally considered to be functionally extinct in the
wild, with no known nesting populations remaining. However, two
juveniles were recently caught by fishermen in Bangladesh!
A small field team, led by Rupali Ghosh, was traveling in the south of Bangladesh this June to investigate news of the killing of an adult B. baska in February. During their travels and interviews with members of the community, they ultimately met the two fishermen with the baby terrapins. The fact that these two juveniles were caught indicates that the species is still reproducing in nature. Now the challenge is to find where they are nesting and then protect that site.
The fishermen could not identify with any certainty where the hatchlings had been obtained. For that reason, the hatchlings were not released and were instead integrated into the captive group currently housed at Bhawal National Park. Field surveys will be initiated in the near future to return to the area to identify the nesting site so that the wild population can be protected.
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For the second consecutive year the world's known population of the Northern River Terrapin, or Sundarbans Batagur (Batagur baska), has more than doubled. Last year we reported on our first significant breeding successes of this critically endangered turtle, with 50 hatchlings produced at TSA supported breeding facilities in both Bangladesh and India (click here for details). This year the TSA is pleased to report the successful hatching of 117 B. baska, 61 in Bangladesh and 56 in India.
This species underwent a rapid decline over the past twenty years due to chronic egg collection and harvesting of adults for food, and was considered nearly extinct in the wild with no nesting populations known. Ranked #4 on the 2011 list of the World's 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles, the prospects for this species' recovery are much brighter today thanks to aggressive conservation intervention and the establishment of in situ captive breeding colonies. Those programs will see significant expansion over the next two years with funding from an SOS – Save Our Species grant, which will include building additional breeding ponds at the site in Bangladesh to allow for more controlled breeding and genetic management, surveys to try and locate remnant populations and potential release sites, and acquiring new adults for the breeding program. It is important to note that this program – at least in Bangladesh - was built by acquiring long-term captive terrapins that were kept for years in isolated home and village ponds as an egg source, survivors from a time when the species was more common.
At the Bhawal National Park facility near Dhaka, Bangladesh, facility manager A.G.J. Morshed reports that hatching began on 23 May, and that four clutches of eggs have produced 61 hatchlings. A fifth clutch was determined to be infertile. In total all five females in the breeding group laid a total of 99 eggs. Improvements to hatching success this year can be attributed to closer monitoring of temperatures during incubation, and keeping the nests protected from rain saturation. Stringent efforts were made to ensure that temperatures in the nest chamber were sufficiently high to produce females. This program is supported by the TSA and Vienna Zoo, in collaboration with the Bangladesh Forest Department, IUCN Bangladesh, CARINAM and our media partner Prokriti O Jibon. Special thanks are extended to Rupali Ghosh, Peter Praschag, Toni Weissenbacher and Brian Horne for their careful monitoring of the situation, both remotely and on site. Toronto Zoo is also recognized for their financial support.
TSA India Director Shai Singh reports that 56 hatchlings emerged at the Batagur breeding facility at on the night of 25 May, and a few more hatchlings are expected. The breeding center is located at the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve at Sajnekhali, in West Bengal. Shai will be going there the first week of June to inspect juvenile set ups and to make husbandry recommendations. This program is supported by TSA India, and managed in collaboration with the West Bengal Forest Department. Special thanks are extended to West Bengal Forest Department and their officers especially - Mr SB Madal,IFS, Mr Soumitra Dasgupta, IFS, Mr Jayanto Basu, Mr Bhaumik and Dr Gowri Mallapur - to make the project a success.
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From Bangladesh to Cambodia, River Terrapins (Genus Batagur) are laying eggs - and lot of them - both in the wild and captivity. Below is a brief summary of River Terrapin nesting activity in programs managed by the TSA and their partners.
Northern River Terrapin or Sunderban Batagur (B. baska): In Bangladesh, at the captive breeding center at Bhawal National Park, the first nest (19 eggs) was laid March 21, followed by two more nests on March 23, consisting of 22 and 14 eggs respectively. Apparently one of the two females dug up another female's nest while laying her own so there was some breakage and egg loss. Project Coordinator Rupali Ghosh was on hand for the nest digging. This is a joint program of Turtle Survival Alliance, Vienna Zoo, Bangladesh Forest Department and our newest partner, IUCN Bangladesh. There are 14.5 adults in this breeding colony (14 males and five females).
In India, at the B. baska breeding center at Sajnekhali, in West Bengal, TSA India Director Shai Singh reports that two females are emerging every night and making trial digs in the newly created nesting enclosure. Last year 50 total hatchlings emerged from these two Centers and we are hoping for a much better hatch rate this year. More good news: the Forest Department procured an additional adult female (22 kg) from a village pond in the northern Sunderbans, bringing the total number at Sajnekhali to 6.5.32 (six males, five females and 32 unknown).
All total there are now 20 males, 10 females and 55 unsexed juveniles of this rare Batagur in captive centers in Indian and Bangladesh and the conservation outlook is looking much brighter that it was just a few years ago when this species was ranked #4 on the list of the Top 25 World's Most Endangered Turtles.
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2012 was the busiest and best in the history of the Turtle Survival Alliance. Here are just a few of the accomplishments that we're so grateful for as the year draws to a close:
- In Madagascar, the TSA’s grassroots campaign to expose the Radiated Tortoise poaching crisis is beginning to yield positive results throughout the country. Community agreements to strengthen protection for this iconic species have resulted in a dramatic increase in confiscations and arrests in 2012, a sign that the tide may finally be turning. In 2013, the TSA will embark on an ambitious program to build a series of rescue centers throughout the south for rehabilitation and treatment until the tortoises are prepared to return to the wild.
- In December, the TSA will dedicate Burma’s first Turtle Rescue Center. Years of planning and fund-raising have culminated in this facility that promises to save countless turtles and tortoises rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. New assurance colony facilities were also built this year for Burmese Mountain Tortoises and Arakan Forest Turtles.
- The June hatching of 50 Northern River Terrapins in captive facilities in both Bangladesh and India was a stunning achievement, and made global news. This gives new hope for the survival of this critically endangered turtle that is believed to be very near extinction in the wild.
- A recent Save Our Species grant will breathe new life into recovery programs for Asian river terrapins (Genus Batagur) in India, Myanmar, Cambodia and Bangladesh. Captive management is essential to safeguarding these species until efforts to protect and restore nesting habitat are successful, and we are actively building a multi-national model that integrates these strategies.
- The TSA produced two films this year to increase awareness of the extensive poaching problems that threaten chelonians in both Madagascar and Bangladesh, and the brutal slaughter that accompanies the illegal wildlife trade.
- The TSA launched a program in Colombia this year – our first in South America – that will focus on endemic species, most notably the critically endangered Magdalena River Turtle. By expanding a successful community-based program of nest protection, hatching, headstarting and release, these grassroots efforts will have a greater impact on the species’ recovery in the wild.
- In India, the TSA is poised to assume management of the Kukrail Gharial Conservation Center in Lucknow where we will build assurance colonies of most of northern India’s threatened chelonians. The Center will become the home base of operations for TSA India, and provide a facility where the increasing number of confiscated turtles can be rehabilitated.
- Launching the Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina in 2013 is guaranteed to prove transformational for the TSA and will propel us into a new era. Building assurance colonies for some of the world’s rarest species – many of which will depend on captive management for their survival – will ensure that we maintain our commitment to zero turtle extinctions.
Membership revenue and online sales account for just roughly 8% of our total revenue. The remainder of our income is provided primarily through grants and donations. For that reason, we are reaching out to those of you who support the TSA to ask for your consideration of a year-end gift to help propel us into an even bigger and better 2013.
This gift does not have the benefits associated with membership and is completely tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. It is a gift that comes from the heart by those who understand the needs of chelonians worldwide and appreciate the work being done year-round by the TSA globally. Click here to donate today.
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The Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska), widely considered one of the most critically endangered of the large river terrapins, is getting a new lease on life due to some remarkable breeding successes recently. Since 2009, the TSA has been working to secure a small captive population of in Bangladesh, and over the years managed to acquire 14 males and five females from “backyard” fish breeding operations. Some of these turtles had been in captivity for more than 25 years, often under adverse conditions, a testament to their durability. The TSA works in collaboration with the Bangladeshi NGO CARINAM and the Forest Department, and has established a breeding facility at the Bhawal National Park near Dhaka. The Vienna Zoo in Austria joined as a strong partner in 2010 and has provided significant technical and financial support to the program. Over the years we have reported our share of disappointments, including the loss of several important females just days before the team arrived to purchase them, to the loss of our only nest last year due to heavy rains and flooding.
But in 2012 we struck pay dirt. From late March through early April, all five females nested within a 24 day period, using the improved sand bank that was provide, laying a total of 92 eggs. Prior to egg laying a team led by Peter Praschag had trained staff on proper egg handling and incubation techniques, and oversaw the conversion of an artificial incubation facility. All five nests were protected with heavy wire cages designed to deter predators, and remote thermometers were installed to monitor incubation temperatures. The Bangladesh team led by SMA Rashid and AJG Morshed did a credible job of monitoring the clutches through incubation, and communicated with us daily on their findings. All this care and attention to detail paid off when the eggs began to hatch on June 7, after 64 days of incubation. All total, 27 hatchlings emerged from the five nests, not bad given the compromised nutritional condition of two of the recently acquired females. Twenty-five survived and are growing rapidly in the newly renovated hatchling facility.
Meanwhile in West Bengal India, a small captive group of about ten B. baska had been maintained for many years at the visitor center for the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve at Sanjekhali, though they had never reproduced. A TSA India team led by Shai Singh visited this facility in March and made recommendations for improvements to the facilities including the addition of a nesting beach. Surprising, this simple husbandry adjustment was sufficient to induce successful egg-laying, because on 12 June the staff found hatchling Batagur swimming in the pond, recently emerged from undetected nests. 25 hatchlings were recovered.
All total, 50 new B. baska have been added to the dwindling population, significantly bolstering this species’ outlook for survival. With such a small number of breeding females – eight – the challenge next will be to set up breeding pairs or trios to maximize the genetic potential of as many wild-caught founders as possible, and to closely manage this small population according to studbook guidelines. A third captive population will soon be established at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust when Vienna Zoo sends a male to join the two existing females that have lived there for many years. Outside the range, Vienna Zoo holds the only known captive group of B. baska. This program has achieved remarkable success in a very short time frame, and is a reflection both of the urgency of the situation coupled with a generous and caring donor community. We gratefully acknowledge the following for their ongoing previous and ongoing support: Patricia Koval/ WWF Canada, Fagus Foundation, Columbus Zoo, Toronto Zoo, AAZK - Henry Doorly Zoo, Wade Foundation through the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, San Diego Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Cassidy Johnson and Walter Sedgwick.
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The TSA has been working in Bangladesh, in collaboration with the NGO CARINAM, the Forest Department and the Vienna Zoo, since 2010 to secure an assurance colony for the Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska), one of Asia’s most threatened large river turtles. After literally scouring markets and private ponds to secure some of the last known specimens of this Critically Endangered species, an assurance colony of 13 males and five females has been assembled and is now housed in a protected area (Bhawal National Park) managed by the Forest Department.
We are thrilled to report that as of mid-April, all five females have nested! Caretakers are carefully monitoring the nests, one of which had to be relocated to protect it from flooding. The nest had 15 eggs and the clutch was divided. Eight eggs were placed in the dugout nest on the sand beach and the remaining seven eggs were placed in a tank filled with sand covered by a protective mesh. The eggs from the remaining four nests have been left in the sandy beach covered by protective mesh to prevent predation.
Thanks to the Fagus Foundation, Cassidy Johnson, San Diego Zoo, Natural Encounters, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, WWF-Canada, Pat Koval, AAZK – Henry Doorly Zoo, Toronto Zoo and Columbus Zoo for their support of this critical program.
Photo credits: SMA Rashid / CARINAM
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The Center for Advanced Research in Natural Resource and Management (CARINAM), the TSA’s partner on the Batagur baska project in Bangladesh, recently celebrated the Year of the Turtle with an event at Dhaka University. Held in collaboration with the IUCN, Bangladesh Bird Club and Priokriti-o-Jibon, the event was held in the Teacher Student Center on May 25.
The celebration included a rally by school children, presentations by conservationists, and a bird exhibition to create awareness of turtle conservation issues and to encourage people to take action and keep turtles as part of a healthy ecosystem.
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The nesting season for wild Asian river terrapins (Batagur) is winding down, just on the heels of the recently completed Batagur workshop in Singapore and Malaysia in February, and we hope that the training will have an impact on hatching success.
In Myanmar, Kalyar Platt (TSA Turtle Conservation Coordinator) just returned from the upper Chindwin River where she worked with field coordinator Kyaw Moe on the nest protection and egg recovery effort for the critically endangered Burmese roof turtle (Batagur trivittata). They report that in this 2010-2011 nesting season, nesting occurred as early as 9 December 2010 and continued through 26 March 2011. During this period, a total of 179 eggs were recovered for incubation. Approximately six to nine females were thought to have nested along a 48-mile stretch of the river.
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Day 4 finally rolled around and it was time to sit back and listen to presentations on some of what are considered model programs for turtle conservation in the region. First up is the Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Center in Vietnam, perhaps the best known and respected of all the regional centers due to its longevity. The presentation was done by the young man in charge now, Hoan Van Thai. This was his first ever public presentation before an international audience and for a shy person, he did an admirable job. He was followed by Shailendra Singh, TSA Turtle Conservation Coordinator, who presented a comprehensive 5-year overview of the Batagur program on the Chambal River Sanctuary in India. This program is impressive in its scope and the number of hatchling Batagur (two species) that have been hatched and released (37,000 for B. dhongoka alone) is significant. Many other components are involved including headstarting, local awareness and poacher conversion.