Classified as Critically Endangered, the painted terrapin (Batagur borneoensis) requires important and urgent conservation efforts. This species, known to be one of the largest living fresh water turtle species, is now only found in very small and isolated populations in southern Thailand, the Malaysian peninsula and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Female painted terrapin (credit: Joko Guntoro)
“Painted terrapins are one of the most threatened turtle species in the world and a species we are involved in conserving at the zoo through an international breeding programme,” says Catherine Barton, our Field Conservation Manager.
Extensive poaching of their eggs is one of the main drivers of this global population decline along with the deterioration of their natural river environment. Last week, the Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta airport’s quarantine officials caught a Japanese man carrying 253 reptiles in his luggage among which was a painted terrapin, a reminder that the illegal wildlife trade is also an important threat to the species.
Conservationists tagging painted terrapins in the field.
We are working alongside the Satucita Foundation to protect the species in the District of Aceh Tamiang, Sumatra, which is believed to be the last stronghold for this species in Indonesia. Conducting beach patrols, the Painted Terrapin Conservation Programme team collects eggs from natural nests and then relocates them to secured areas where the eggs can be monitored and protected from poachers in collaboration with local community groups.
The nest patrols for this year ended last month and secured 424 eggs from 26 nests, of which 371 eggs successfully hatched (an 88% hatching rate). All hatchlings were immediately released after hatching and so far 1,204 painted terrapin were released into the wild in 2017. This number is expected to boost the critically endangered wild population.
Litter on a painted terrapin nesting beach.
The conservation of painted terrapin is important to recover wild populations and prevent further local extinction that has been occurring in places historically recorded as their distribution area.
In addition to this work in the field, awareness campaigns and socialisation actions reached about 200 people consisting mostly of students and villagers. Many of these villagers used to collect turtles eggs but are now trained to conduct nesting patrols and to collect ecological data on the animals.
“Our support for the work of Satucita Foundation on Sumatra is vital to ensure this species is protected and thrives in Indonesia,” explains Catherine. “Our partners in the field are hugely dedicated to the conservation of the species and we hope that our support, both financially and through skills learnt in the zoo, can assist the success of this conservation mission.”
Painted terrapin hatchery.