20 years ago, the Burmese roofed turtle was presumed extinct, but today, we have some good news! This huge Asian river turtle, whose face seems to be set with a permanent smile, has been saved from extinction by a group of scientists. After accidentally coming across a few of these turtles, these scientists, over the years, have managed to grow the population of these turtles to 1000 and counting, with some of the turtles even released back into the wild.
"[A] giant Asian river turtle whose bug-eyed face is naturally set in a goofy grin"
As reported by The New York Times, turtles and tortoises are one of the most at risk of extinction animal groups, "with more than half of the planet's 360 species listed as threatened." The Burmese roofed turtle was for a long time one of them. They used to live prosperously at the Irrawaddy river south of Yangon, but, with high levels of habitat loss, need for medicine and food, and the pet trade in that are prevalent in Asian countries, the species disappeared almost completely. Steven G. Platt, a herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told The Times: "If we didn't intervene when we did, this turtle would have just been gone."
"Employing radio telemetry on a bluff overlooking the Chindwin River in Myanmar to monitor the movements of turtles released a few weeks earlier."
The story of the rediscovery of the species is long and full of accidents and luck. It began in 2001, after Myanmar's boarders reopened to Westerners in the 1990s, with a villager who handed Dr. Platt a Burmese roofed turtle shell which marked the first sign that the species had not been extinct. Sometimes then, a live Burmese roofed turtle that was spotted in Hong Kong found its way to an American collector. Realizing that the species was not extinct, an expedition to Chindwin River brought about the finding of multiple of these turtles. Another random finding came with Gerald Kuchling, a biologist at the University of Western Australia, who came across three of these turtles at a pond in a Buddhist temple.
"A male Burmese roofed turtle in bright breeding colors."
Not much is known about the species as of yet, and because of that, it is hard to know exactly what needs to be done to help preserve the species further. Some of the things that are known include the fact that the females of the species grow much larger than the males and can "exceed the size of a steering wheel", and that the males go through an incredible transformation each breeding season "that causes their usually green heads to turn a bright chartreuse-yellow with bold black markings."
"A Burmese roofed turtle hatchling."
Despite the lack of information about the turtles, so far, the rehabitation of the turtles has been a huge success, with 1000 individuals already thriving and more on the way. Some of the turtles hatched naturally from eggs laid in the wild, others were bred in captivity, and there are five wild females continuing to lay eggs today. The president of the Turtle Survival Alliance, Rick Hudson, said that "this is one of the best global-level turtle conservation successes we have," and truly, knowing that this species is no longer at an immediate risk of extinction is wonderful news.
"A nest along the Chindwin River. The eggs are laid in multiple holes, each flag noting the spot where one or more eggs were excavated."
For more turtle content, you can check out this collection of funny turtle memes, and if you're in the mood to read about more stories of animals that were saved from extinction. we have that for you as well.
"Hatchlings just out of the egg."
"Villagers lined up on the Chindwin River to release turtles."