Species in focus: Burmese roofed turtles (Batagur trivittata)
Population: Less than 10 individuals globally
Current status, according to the IUCN Red List: Critically endangered
Population trend: Decreasing
Myanmar’s Burmese roofed turtle, a highly endangered species that is making a slow comeback, caught worldwide attention this year. In August, the world saw its first images of Burmese roofed turtle hatchlings in nearly 30 years.
A global conservation NGO, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), a global organization working on sustainable captive management of freshwater turtles and tortoises, released the images. A first-ever scientific description of the hatchlings was also published in the journal Zootaxa.
These freshwater turtles are considered one of the most endangered turtle species in the world—they have all but disappeared from their entire geographical range.
The herbivore turtles were once abundant in Myanmar’s major river systems but habitat degradation, excessive egg collection and exploitative harvesting of adults led to a rapid decline in their population. By the late 1990s, they were considered extinct.
That status changed when conservationists from the WCS and TSA, along with the Myanmar forest department, rediscovered the turtle in the wild in the early 2000s. “Today, sandbanks used as nesting sites by females are monitored, and eggs are collected and incubated under natural conditions at a secure facility in Limpha Village, Sagaing Region, Myanmar,” a release from the WCS explains. Remarkably, their captive population is now nearing 1,000 and the species appears in little danger of biological extinction, it adds. Some of these hatchlings will be released back into the wild. Simultaneously, conservation efforts in the wild are focused on protecting the remaining few mature individuals — five-six adult females and just two males. According to the IUCN, there are fewer than 10 mature turtles left in the wild, representing a 99% decline in their population.
The Zootaxa study explains that there is a “paucity” of basic natural history information on the species, particularly its early life stages, or the neonates. “Such information is critical for species identification, determining growth rates,” the study adds.
According to a 2019 United Nations report, one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction within decades. The Species in Focus series looks at one endangered species in every instalment.