Slice of Paradise Created for Critically Endangered Toad-Headed Turtle

©. Courtesy of WCS Colombia

A 297-acre property in rural northern Colombia will become the first and only reserve for the conservation of the Dahl’s toad-headed turtle.

Like many organisms in the modern world, the Dahl’s toad-headed turtle (Mesoclemmys dahli) isn't having the best time. Found exclusively in the Caribbean region on Columbia’s Atlantic Coast, the turtle has traditionally made ponds and small brooks within forests its home. But thanks to agriculture, cattle farming, and construction, the turtle's favored habitat is being fragmented and destroyed. The landscape is changing so radically that the species is in critical danger of extinction.

In fact, the changes in the turtle's habitat have divided its population into at least six isolated groups, says Wildlife Conservation Society Colombia and Turtle Survival Alliance, noting that "Individuals are now mating among close relatives which increases the chance of genetic disorders and deleterious traits." Oh dear.

But now, the two organizations, along with the Rainforest Trust, have created a safe place for the turtle – a 297-acre property in rural northern Colombia that will become the first and only reserve for the conservation of these critically endangered creatures.

In addition to restoring and expanding the wetland complex to help the dry forest habitat thrive, the teams will also develop a "genetic rescue program." They will bring unrelated turtles to the new reserve to reduce inbreeding and maintain genetic diversity.

German Forero-Medina, Science and Conservation Director for WCS Colombia says of the initiative:

“This species is only found in northern Colombia, its habitat has been degraded across all of its range and it's not within any protected area. Thus, this new reserve will provide a unique opportunity to ensure the long-term persistence of the species.”

“The creation of this reserve is a vital step in protecting the Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle from extinction,” says Mark Gruin, Acting CEO of Rainforest Trust. “Without this formal protection of its habitat, this extraordinary species could be lost forever.”

Honestly, sometimes it feels like we are just plugging up an increasing number of holes on a sinking ship – we save the toad-headed turtle, but what else are we losing in the meantime? However, the truth is that there are so many dedicated people and organizations working on behalf of Mother Nature, and so much great work being done. Every acre of imperiled habitat we can protect is a triumph, giving a wide variety of organisms a place to prosper. And because of this, the cliche works here: Saving the world, one toad-headed turtle at a time.