¡Vivan las tortugas de México!

Cris Hagen holds two Cuatro Ciénegas Sliders

This past week, TSA’s Director of Animal Management, Cris Hagen, visited the states of Durango and Coahuila, Mexico, to familiarize himself with the status of turtle conservation in the north-central region of the country. Spending four days alongside Gamaliel Castaneda, Dean of Biology, University of Juárez in the State of Durango, as well as professors Sara Valenzuela and Jorge Ernesto Becerra, Cris observed the turtles endemic to the Nazas River and Cuatro Ciénegas, while learning about the academics’ many years of combined research in the region.

The beauty of the Cuatro Ciénegas valley is second only to the uniqueness of its habitats.

During the several day excursion the group made wild observations of the Nazas Slider (Trachemys hartwegi) and Rough-footed Mud Turtle (Kinosternon hirtipes) in the Nazas River, Durango, before traveling to Cuatro Ciénegas, Coahuila, to witness its unique oasis habitat, and observe endemic Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila), Cuatro Ciénegas Slider (Trachemys taylori), and Cuatro Ciénegas Softshell (Apalone spinifera atra).

Cuatro Ciénegas Slider, an endemic to the crystalline pools found in the valley.
Cuatro Ciénegas Softshell Turtle, another endemic.

There are numerous factors threatening the critically endangered endemics of the Cuatro Ciénegas valley that will require creative conservation efforts for their long-term survival. Human activities including water management, recreation, and land development all contribute to the endangerment of this isolated ecosystem. In some areas, the drying of once permanent pools that supported a multitude of aquatic inhabitants, including these turtles, is evidenced by this.

In some areas, only remnants of a habitat once teaming with life remain.
As once permanent pools of water dry up, only skeletons of their inhabitants can be found.

Of the three species inhabiting this desert wetland complex, the Coahuilan Box Turtle may be in greatest peril. Its population has seen a precipitous decline. Surveys of preferred habitat in the 1970’s yielded an average of 148 individuals per hectare. Now, an average of only 3 individuals per hectare remain. Along with other initiatives to protect this unique turtle and its habitat, discussions are currently underway to establish a pilot captive breeding and head start program for this species in its home state of Coahuila. The TSA is actively engaged in these discussions should there be opportunities for our assistance in that effort.

One of several Coahuilan Box Turtle found during this excursion.

Photos and Article by Cris Hagen