Batagur Bonanza!

by Jordan Gray

Kachuga 2

Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (India).For 5 species from the genus of riverine turtles Batagur, the second week of May has seen a bonanza of hatching activity! On Monday, 8 May, from India to Cambodia, a phenomenon like no other was observed as we received reports from our range-country programs and TSA partners of the year‚Äôs first hatchling turtles emerging from nests from an astounding 4 species of Batagur! The next day saw a 5th species emerge from their nest, making this a May to remember!

The five species of Batagur hatching this past week include the Southern River Terrapin (B. affinis), Northern River Terrapin (B. baska), Three-striped Roofed Turtle (B. dhongoka), Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (B. kachuga), and the Burmese Roofed Turtle (B. trivittata). The successful nest protection, incubation and hatching of the eggs of these species are critical to their survival as all are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered species.

Southern River Terrapins (Cambodia). Photo Credit: WCS

On Monday morning, 8 May 2017, we received exciting correspondence from our partner organization Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Dr. Brian Horne that 9 Southern River Terrapins, known as the “Royal Turtle”, had hatched in Cambodia. A villager discovered a nest of 14 eggs along the Kaong River, Sre Ambel, Cambodia, which is the last known river that the Southern River Terrapin exists in, in the country. With the stakes being so high for the species, a fenced barrier was built around the eggs and a villager hired to guard the nest for the 3-month incubation duration. The hatching of these 9 Critically Endangered turtles is testament to the quick communication and action by the partnering organizations and vigilant watch by the hired villager. The hatchlings were transferred to the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre in Koh Kong Province for rearing.

Shortly after this correspondence, TSA-India Director, Dr. Shailendra Singh, reported that the first nests of both the Red-crowned Roofed Turtle, and the Three-striped Roofed Turtle were hatching in India! Located in the National Chambal Sanctuary within the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh states of northern India, our nest protection program has a team of workers who identify naturally-laid nests, relocate and fence in clutches of eggs, and keep watch over the “nest field” for the duration of the incubation period. This year, a large cohort of hatchlings of Red-crowned Roofed Turtle will be head-started for four months at the Gharhaita Turtle Conservation Centre in Uttar Pradesh before their release into the Chambal River. Additionally, two large cohorts of Red-crowned Roofed Turtle and Three-striped Roofed Turtle will be head-started for one year at the Deori Eco Centre in Morena, India.

Dhongoka 1

Three-striped Roofed Turtles (India).

The events of 8 May did not stop there. Rupali Ghosh, TSA‚Äôs field coordinator for Batagur conservation in Bangladesh, reported the year‚Äôs first hatching - four individuals - of the second-most endangered of the Batagur genus, the Northern River Terrapin, at the Karamjal Forest Station. The following day, 19 more hatchlings pipped the eggs from this clutch, and on Wednesday, 10 May, the remaining 5 hatchlings emerged. This hatching is significant as it represents the first successful hatching at the new assurance colony at Karamjal! The assurance colony at the Karamjal Forest Station, located in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh, a UNESCO world-heritage site, is a collaboration between the Turtle Survival Alliance, Vienna Zoo, the Forest Department, and the Prokriti O Jibon Foundation. These hatchlings will be head-started until they are of sufficient size to consider release plans.

Trivittata 4

Burmese Roofed Turtle (Myanmar).Lastly, an eventful 36 hours for the TSA, WCS, our collaborating partners, and the Batagur genus concluded with news of hatchings from the 5th and most-endangered species of the genus, the Burmese Roofed Turtle, in Myanmar. On Tuesday, 9 May, TSA-Myanmar coordinator Kaylar Platt, announced the hatching of 17 Critically Endangered Burmese Roofed Turtles that day and the week prior at the Myanmar Forest Department's assurance colony in the Yadanabon Zoo, Mandalay, Myanmar. With less than 10 wild adult females surviving along a remote stretch of the Upper Chindwin River, successful hatchings of this species are paramount to their survival. This species is being closely managed in three assurance colonies in Myanmar, with well over 600 individuals making up the captive-population. The hatchlings from the Yadanabon Zoo will be reared in a protected environment with hopes of reintroducing captive progeny to the Upper Chindwin River in the future!

As of this writing, we continue to get daily reports from India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar of nest-hatching events from members of this beleaguered genus of turtles. Each hatching event represents a significant accomplishment for the partnering organizations in their quest to protect these turtles in their native ranges. Additionally, each hatching event provides hope for each species of the genus by significantly increasing their global-population. We look forward to sharing more hatching successes from the Chambal in India, the Sundarbans of Bangladesh, the Upper Chindwin of Myanmar and the Sre Ambel of Cambodia as hatching season continues. There is no more exciting time for the Turtle Survival Alliance and Batagur than this!