Five species of softshell turtles are known to occur in Myanmar (Amyda cartilaginea, Nilssonia formosa, Chitra vandijki, Dogania subplana, Lissemys scutata), and three of these are endemic (N. formosa, C. vandijki, and L. scutata). As a group softshell turtle are in high demand by Chinese wildlife markets and as a result, populations of most species have been decimated throughout much of Myanmar (Platt et al., 2000; Kuchling et al., 2004; Platt et al., 2012c). This is particularly alarming because effective conservation measures have yet to be implemented, captive-assurance colonies remain to be established, and exploitation continues unabated.
In 2015 the WCS/TSA Turtle Program implemented a multi-component conservation program that represents a first step towards reversing the downward slide of softshell turtle populations in Myanmar. This program consists of two principal components: a) an egg collection and head-starting program on the Upper Chindwin River and Nam Thalet Chaung, and b) an assurance colony to produce offspring for head-starting and eventual release. These initial efforts should be regarded as experimental; head-starting has rarely been attempted with softshell turtles and methodologies will no doubt require some refinement before success can be guaranteed.
Egg collection and head-starting program: This program was initiated along the upper Chindwin River and Nam Thalet Chaung during January-May 2015 in conjunction with the on-going Burmese roofed turtle conservation program. Villagers will be compensated for notifying WCS/TSA personnel when turtle eggs are unearthed in their riverside gardens. The eggs will then be excavated and transferred to a secure riverside facility also used to incubate Burmese roofed turtle eggs. After hatching, the neonates will be head-started in large fiberglass tanks at Limpha Basecamp.
Assurance colonies: A softshell turtle assurance colony is currently being established at a Buddhist monastery near Bago, about 60 km north of Yangon. The monks are interested in taking an active role in conservation efforts and offered the use of several large, natural ponds on the monastery grounds for breeding turtles. In October 2015 a formal agreement was reached with the monks to host an assurance colony at the monastery. Ponds are being fenced and outfitted with artificial sandbanks to provide a nesting substrate. As of early December 2015, seven adult softshell turtles have been acquired for the assurance colony. These turtles were either confiscated from wildlife traffickers by the Forest Department or donated by fishermen, and include three narrow-headed softshell turtles (C. vandijkii), two Asian giant softshell turtles (A. cartilaginea), and two Burmese peacock softshell turtles (N. formosa). Additionally, another pair of peacock softshell turtles confiscated from fishermen and housed at the Yadanabon Zoological Garden (Mandalay), deposited a clutch of eggs on an artificial sandbank sometime in mid-2015 (actual nesting escaped notice). Fourteen eggs hatched in July 2015 and the neonates are currently being reared in 250-gallon fiberglass tanks on the zoo grounds. This event marks the first successful reproduction of the Burmese peacock softshell in captivity.