The WCS/TSA Turtle Team recently established a third Burmese Roofed Turtle (Batagur trivittata) assurance colony at an outpost of the Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary in the riverside hamlet of Htamanthi, Myanmar. With less than 10 adults remaining in the wild, the Burmese Roofed Turtle is considered the second-most endangered species of turtle in the world. Two other assurance colonies have been established in Myanmar; one at the Yadanabon Zoo in Mandalay and another at Lawkanandar Wildlife Sanctuary in Bagan. Another Burmese Roofed Turtle assurance colony and the only one outside of Myanmar is planned for the Singapore Zoo.
In keeping with the WCS/TSA strategy of integrating in-situ and ex-situ approaches to turtle conservation, these assurance colonies are part of a comprehensive program that also includes protection of the remaining wild population, an egg collection and head-starting program, and a pilot reintroduction study. Assurance colonies provide a hedge against extinction in the wild as well as a source of turtles for eventual reintroduction into protected habitat.
The new assurance colony at Htamanthi consists of 100 subadult (ca. 5-7 years old) Roofed Turtles, originally hatched from eggs collected along the upper Chindwin River and then head-started at the Yadanabon Zoo. In January 2015, the turtles were transported from Mandalay to the WCS/TSA Basecamp at Limpha Village, a harrowing journey that involved five days of tortuous truck travel over rutted jungle tracks, and culminated with a day-long boat trip up the Chindwin River. Since arriving in Limpha the turtles have resided in two grow-out ponds awaiting completion of the assurance colony in Htamanthi.
Work began on the new facility in Htamanthi during May-June 2015, but torrential rainfall delayed completion until later in the year. The new colony is housed in a 0.5 ha spring-fed pond surrounded by a high chain-link security fence; a modest but comfortable bungalow for on-site staff and visitors was erected adjacent to the pond. Although reproduction by the turtles is still several years away, sandbanks will soon be installed at key locations around the pond to provide egg-laying sites for nesting females.
In mid-February, the WCS/TSA Turtle Team traveled to Limpha and organized transfer of the turtles downriver to the new facility at Htamanthi. After being examined by Dr. Tint Lwin, the project veterinarian, each turtle was secured in a rice sack and carried to our waiting boat. Because boat space was limited, two day-long trips were required to move the 100 turtles, the WCS/TSA Turtle Team, and our gear downriver to Htamanthi. Once at Htamanthi, the turtles were quickly transported to the assurance colony, and after undergoing a final check by Tint Lwin, were released into the pond. The turtles seemed none the worse for their journey, and within a few hours several could be seen basking along the shore while others grazed on the abundant aquatic plants in their new home.
Written by: Steven G. Platt, Regional Herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society.