Back From the Brink: Ex-situ Conservation and Recovery of the Critically Endangered Burmese Star Tortoise (Geochelone platynota) in Myanmar
The Burmese Star Tortoise (Geochelone platynota) is a medium-sized tortoise (carapace length [CL] to ca. 300 mm) endemic to the dry zone of central Myanmar (Fig. 1; Platt et al. 2011b). Chronic over-harvesting of G. platynota, mainly for domestic consumption by rural Burmese (Blyth 1863; Theobald 1868), coupled with habitat loss has resulted in widespread, albeit gradual population declines throughout its range (Platt et al. 2011b). Harvesting greatly intensified during the mid-1990s, driven by the burgeoning demand from wildlife markets in southern China (Behler 1997; Altherr and Freyer 2000) where G. platynota was sold as food and incorporated into traditional medicines (Platt et al. 2000). Demand from Chinese markets was soon eclipsed by illegal collecting for the high-end international pet trade, which resulted in the near extinction of wild populations (Platt et al. 2011b). By the early 2000s viable populations could no longer be found and G. platynota was considered ecologically and functionally
extinct in the wild, even for those populations within the national protected area network (Platt et al. 2011a, 2011b). Consequently, G. platynota was designated a member of “extinction row” along with other high-risk chelonian taxa (Buhlmann et al. 2002), listed among the 25 most endangered chelonians in the world (Rhodin et al. 2011), and assessed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN (IUCN 2014). Captive-breeding was recognized as
the only remaining option for preventing biological extinction of G. platynota and ultimately restoring this species as a functional member of the dry zone ecosystem (Horne et al. 2012).