Females dominate the conservation colony of Northern River Terrapin in India

by Heather Lowe 

We've received good news regarding the future of the Critically Endangered Northern River Terrapin, Batagur baska. Dr. Gerald Kuchling, renowned turtle reproductive physiologist from Chelonia Enterprise, recently supervised the laproscopic sexing of captive juvenile turtles at TSA's program site in India. Dr. Kuchling's finding, that the 

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majority of the animals was female, is significant for the future of the species. As with any small population of animals, it is imperative that the group consist of primarily females to ensure the production of offspring and increase genetic diversity. Information regarding sex-ratio is also extremely useful in the planning of future reintroduction, translocation and captive breeding initiatives. Dr. Kuchling identified 25 males among the 145 juvenile turtles which hatched and are currently being reared at the facility. The turtles are from three separate groups housed at Sajnekhali Forest Station in the Sunderban Tiger Reserve.

During Dr. Kuchling's procedure, all juveniles were tagged with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) tags for further identification and data collection. Each individual's growth and development will be closely monitored over time. In addition, sonic-transmitters were placed on the shells of two larger females to test the efficacy of the equipment as well to study the turtle's behavior as it acclimates to equipment.

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Currently, there are fewer than 50 adult Northern River Terrapins both in the wild and in captivity. TSA, in close association with West Bengal Forest Department, has been working since 2011 in India and Bangladesh to bring this species back from the brink. The program which consists mainly of nest protection and head-starting has been very successful since its implementation.

We'd like to extend our gratitude to Dr. Kuchling for his technical expertise in this highly specialized procedure and to the Auckland Zoo. We'd also like to thank the West Bengal Forest Department officers especially Mr. Pradeep Vyas,IFS, Mr. Saumitra Dasgupta,IFS and Mr. Biplab Bhaumik for their authorization and logistical support. This project is made possible with support from SOS-Save Our Species. The TSA India team included Dr Shailendra Singh, Dr Disha Sharma and Mr Saurav Gawan.