The Search Begins for Southern River Terrapins in Sumatra!

By Jordan Gray

Last weekend in Sumatra, Joko Guntoro and his team commenced the search for one of the world’s Top 25 most endangered turtles, the Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis). Once a common river and estuarine turtle of Southeast Asia, over-hunting for its meat and eggs, along with widespread habitat destruction, have all but wiped out this species from the wild. Now, small remnant populations are known only from Cambodia and Peninsular Malaysia. But, with the generous support of the Farallon Islands Foundation, the hunt to find them in Indonesia begins!

The Southern River Terrapin consists of two subspecies, the Eastern Malay River Terrapin (Batagur affinis edwardmolli) and the Western Malay River Terrapin (Batagur affinis affinis). The TSA and our partners believe a relic population of the Western Malay River Terrapin may still exist in southern Sumatra, hidden amongst its muddy waters and mangrove swamps. Joko and his team from the Satucita Foundation and the BBKSDA (Agency of Natural Resources Conservation) Riau are attempting to find evidence and produce verifiable records of a species widely believed to be approaching biological extinction in the country. They are basing their search area on historic records and anecdotal accounts of localized hunting within the last few decades.

Should efforts yield positive confirmation of the Southern River Terrapin in Sumatra, the TSA and our partners will engage in an intensive effort to restore its population there. This restorative effort will be based on our successful Batagur conservation model, which has already been applied in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, and northern Sumatra.

The first steps to verifying the presence of terrapins in southern Sumatra began last Sunday, with habitat surveys and interviewing key informants within the target region. According to preliminary interviews with locals, the terrapins were indeed abundant in the region only a few decades ago. However, they haven’t been seen in roughly 20 years. With exemplary knowledge, proven field techniques, and a successful program implemented for Batagurs in northern Sumatra, we are confident that if any team can find the presence of the Southern River Terrapin in southern Sumatra, Joko’s will.

To assist with the historic search for the critically endangered Southern River Terrapin in Sumatra, please considering DONATING TODAY!