Good News from the Philippines

by Heather Lowe 

To the TSA's many supporters, especially those that closely followed the Palawan Forest Turtle confiscation that dominated our summer, I want to share the following "wrap up" summary from Sabine Schoppe of the Katala Foundation. Her report is upbeat and positive: only six turtles remain in care, overall mortality was surprisingly low at 11.5%, and the rest of the turtles have been released at six sites, five of which are being monitored. These results are remarkable in light of the tragic and dismal situation that Sabine inherited in June, and is a testament to the swift and effective response by the turtle conservation community. Your support of the TSA's response to this crisis no doubt helped turn the tide from one of desperate chaos to one of hope. Because of your support we have learned a lot about how to respond rapidly in such crises, and will be better prepared the next time.

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The TSA thanks all donors for their generous support during this critical period. Special thank you to the following supporters donating at the $1,000 and above level:
Audubon Nature Institute, Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Disney's Conservation Fund – Rapid Response Fund, Fagus Foundation, Owen Griffiths, Houston Zoo, Moody Gardens & Aquarium, George Meyer, Ed Neil, James Neil, Sea World Emergency Fund, Ty Park, Turtle & Tortoise Preservation Group, Woodland Park Zoo, and Zoos Victoria

Sincerely, Rick Hudson (TSA President)

Sabine writes:

Dear fellow turtle conservationists,

It has been a while since my last update. The reason for this is pleasant: we are almost back to normal here at Katala Foundation!

In the past weeks after the last update, we had one more release. We also had some 25 more mortalities among the severe cases. But I am also happy to inform that the eye cases all recovered and have been released by now. The symptoms were similar in all eye cases: first cloudiness of one or both eyes, this developed into a plaque causing temporary blindness until finally after some weeks the plaque fell off and a clear and shiny eye appeared. All eye cases were treated daily but we don't know if the ointment speeded the healing process or not. I remember we had "eye cases" many years ago, they healed without treatment (Interesting research topic!).

We are also happy to inform that we have few viable eggs that hopefully hatch in the next few weeks. From confiscations prior to the June one, we have already six healthy hatchings by now. All had been deposited by females that had not spent much time in captivity. From our many years of experience with the species we know that the Palawan Forest Turtle is highly sensitive to stress in captivity and from breeding trials it has become obvious that despite best management practices this is the leading factor causing infertility of the eggs produced in captivity. Given the difficulties in breeding this species in captivity provides extremely strong evidence that all alleged captive-bred Palawan Forest Turtle occurring in trade are either wild caught hatchlings or hatched from gravid wild-caught females, and are falsely declared as being captive bred. Another interesting learning!

As of today we are left with only six turtles and activities concentrate on monitoring the turtles at the release sites. Five of the release sites are monitored by undergraduate students under my advisory. The other sites are monitored by KFI staff. Sites are monitored monthly or bimonthly. Depending on habitat conditions and stream flow, we monitor some 1km up and downstream of the release site. We do visual encounter survey and trapping with baited funnel traps. We conduct interviews with locals, check for dead turtles, and individually notch all encounters. We check population composition of resident population and of released ones, and we check dispersal over time. We have found few dead individuals but most seem to be healthy and have established at the release site. Monitoring activities are financed from the donations.

No doubt, that this large confiscation has a long lasting impact on the wild population of S. leytensis. The extent of it we can only surmise in the years to come. Therefore we intend to also re-assess and monitor those populations that we had been monitoring in the past years through long term mark recaptures surveys. Likewise we need to assess areas where no detailed studies have been conducted in the past.

Overall mortality of the confiscated Palawan Forest Turtle was 11.5%, which is low compared to other large confiscations. This would have in no way been possible, had it not been for the prompt and swift action of a team with the united goal of saving the Palawan Forest Turtle from extinction. Thanks you so much!!!

We will also start an information campaign with focus on the release sites. Furthermore, this year's Turtle Day Celebration will be dedicated to the Palawan Forest Turtle. We celebrate Turtle Day with high school and college students since 2009. Normally we cover marine and freshwater turtles but this year we will exclusively talk about the Palawan Forest Turtle.

By now all temporarily enclosures have been dismantled and we will start working on renovating and expanding our facilities in Narra. Likewise we will renovate the pens at the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, where the turtles had been accommodated during the first three weeks of the crisis. We have drafted a Memorandum of Agreement between the rescue center and KFI which would guarantee that the renovated pens would be always used for eventual future turtle confiscations. All repair and expansion activities are only possible thanks to the funds generated.

On behalf of Katala Foundation Inc., I would like to thank the main players for without their generous financial support and/or technical assistance this crisis could have never been solved: Action Campaign for Endangered Species - AGA e.V., Csaba Geczy DVM, NEZS Chester Zoo, Columbus Zoo (Matt O'Connor DVM), Dutch/Belgium Turtle & Tortoise Society (NBSV), Emerson Sy and friends, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (Alex Grioni DVM, Sandra Schneider DVM), Karthi Martelli DVM, Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden, Monterey Bay Aquarium, New England Aquarium (Charles Innis DVM), Ocean Park Hong Kong (Paolo Martelli DVM), Oxbow Animal Health, Olivia Vandersanden, San Diego Zoo (Tommy Owens, Benjamin Nevitt DVM, Jill Kunz), Q-Mark (Lendl Lin), Turtle Conservancy (Paul Gibbons DVM, James Liu), TFTSG/TCF/CRF, Turtle Survival Alliance (Cris Hagen, Sheena Kloeth, Allyson Lee), Stichting Turtle Survival/TSA-Europe, Sponsor of Mariah Lancaster, Wildlife Conservation Society – WCS (John Sykes DVM, Kenneth Conley DVM, Nga Nguyen DVM, Liza Eidlin, Ihsaan Sebro), Western Philippines University – WPU and alumni, Wroclow Zoo (Karolina Mol, Maciej Wozniak), Wildlife Reserves Singapore – WRS (Sonja Luz DVM), Wuppertal Zoo Society (Friends of Wuppertal), Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations – ZGAP, Zoo Halle, Zoo Landan, Zoo Leipzig, Zoo Med Supplies (Shane Bagnall), Zoo Parc Beauval, and Zoo Schönbrunn Vienna.

Thank you also to all individuals who donated and channeled funds through any of the larger organizations and therefore their names do not appear here.

There is still a lot to do.........

Best regards from Palawan, Sabine