44 viable eggs found of one of the most endangered turtles on the planet

With fewer than five female Burmese roofed turtles remaining in the wild, the discovery and protection of two viable egg clutches is cause for celebration.

For a while it was believed that the Burmese roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata) had gone the way of the dodo. Found only in Myanmar, the beautiful turtles were once common in the Ayeyarwady-Chindwin River system, but their numbers dropped steadily during the last half of the 20th century. After a long absence, however, a few members of the species were discovered and an assurance colony was started at a nearby zoo. Eleven years ago, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)/Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) scientists stepped in and began identifying and protecting nesting sites along the Chindwin River.

Chindwin river© Kalyar Platt/WCS

And it’s been slow going. In 2014, just a single viable egg was deposited; in 2015 there were none. In 2016, there was a single viable clutch. But this year, fingers crossed … break out the cigars!

The scientists have announced the recovery of 44 fertile eggs. Three clutches were found in total; two of the clutches contained viable eggs, but the third, located elsewhere, did not.

Viable egg© WCS

All the eggs have been weighed and measured and are now in a protected incubation site on the sandbank where they were found. They receive monitoring 24 hours a day. The team expects the babies to emerge in early June, at which point they will be taken to another facility where they will live four or five years. Once they are big enough to be safe from predators, they will be released back into the river.

WCS is working hard on behalf of the beleaguered turtles; last year in tandem with the Yadanabon Zoo they modified the turtles’ diet and built an additional sandbank for nesting. This seems to have spurred more reproduction, with eggs having been deposited in both sandbanks this year.

Even with a number of initiatives in place, the combination of overharvesting of eggs, incidental loss in fishing gear, and habitat loss due to gold mining continues to push the species closer to extinction. But with 44 new wild-hatched hatchlings hopefully on their way, and more being raised in protected environments, the fate of the Burmese roofed turtle may not be as bleak as it would have been otherwise.

“Every year we hold our breath until the females emerge from the river and lay their eggs,” says Steven Platt, Regional Herpetologist for WCS’s Myanmar Program. “We were delighted to collect so many viable eggs this year, but we still have a long way to go before we have a secure wild population of these turtles in the Chindwin River.”

Burmese roofed turtle© Kalyar Platt/WCS

Read more about the "extraordinary egg hunt" and how you can help, visit WCS.

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species | Nature

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