Throughout Asia, from remote nesting beaches to captive breeding facilities, River Terrapins (genus Batagur) have recently completed their hatching season once again, reports Rick Hudson of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).
SOS supported the TSA’s Batagur recovery programme from March 2013 to March 2015 and we are pleased to share these conservation successes from our former grantee. Here Rick summarises the broader progress of TSA’s Batagur recovery programmes in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh – some of the countries supported through SOS grant 2012A-031 as well as by other donors - to date.
With three target species, Batagur dhongoka, Batagur kachuga, and Batagur baska, the India programme is the TSA's most extensive Batagur programme in Asia. The National Chambal River Sanctuary supports two of the species, Batagur dhongoka and Batagur kachuga, and riverine hatcheries protect thousands of eggs annually from predation and return hatchlings to the river.
This year a total of 598 nests (totalling 11,529 eggs) were relocated to protected hatching areas, resulting in 9,622 baby Batagur! Overall hatching success was an impressive 83%, reflecting the tried and true techniques of experienced field staff.
Of these, 115 nests and 1,809 hatchlings were tallied from the Critically Endangered Batagur kachuga. Found only in India, the Chambal population represents this species' stronghold. Two hundred of these young terrapins were selected for head-starting at two of TSA's turtle centres on the Chambal River. Additionally 135 Batagur dhongoka hatchlings are being head-started at our Narora facility at Ganga, which TSA manages in association with its partner, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).
TSA India also works on the recovery of Batagur baska in West Bengal, at the vast mangrove wilderness of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve at Sajnekhali. Despite poor breeding success in 2015 due to high temperatures, 95 hatchlings of this Critically Endangered terrapin emerged from four nests in late May 2016, bringing the total to 240 since this programme started in 2012.
This year the project team were able to release 10 juvenile Batagur baska from the project, with the intent to determine dispersal and survival. Elsewhere in India, TSA had good news from long-time partner, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MBCT), where seven hatchlings emerged from ten eggs in mid-May after an incubation of 51 days.
This breeding success was the result of an international breeding loan, in which a project associate, Peter Praschag, of Turtle Island conservation breeding centre and zoo in Graz, Austria, sent a male Batagur baska to MCBT to pair with the two long-term captive females, both acquired from a market in Kolkata back in 2001. This effectively created a much needed second assurance colony for this rare terrapin in India.
At the Bhawal National Park, Bangladesh facilities, efforts with Batagur baska were not as impressive. After a disappointing year in 2015 - when egg production dropped off after turtles were placed in smaller breeding groups for genetic management – TSA’s team returned to a large group-breeding scenario and egg-laying increased.
Unfortunately ants attacked the eggs late into the incubation period this year, and full-term embryos were discovered dead. Fortunately 146 hatchlings had been produced from this group from 2012 – 2015.
So far in Myanmar, 2016 has proved to be a good year for Batagur trivittata with good hatching rates which reversed the negative trend of the past two years in which reproduction within the wild population failed. Over 600 Batagur trivittata are being reared in three captive management centres throughout Myanmar, either being head-started for release or raised to adult size for captive breeding.
Recovering wild Batagur populations remains a significant conservation challenge, and will require vastly increased funding if conservationists are to succeed according to Rick. But for now, the TSA teams are successfully applying standard conservation methods to build up captive numbers as a hedge against extinction in nature.
The SOS funded turtle project was just one of 109 conservation projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative to date. With your valuable support we can continue to find and fund the best frontline conservation tackling issues like habitat degradation, invasive species, wildlife crime, species recovery and alternative livelihoods. Please donate now and help SOS save more species.