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No. 128, 25th April 2014

1. India: Chelonians for dinner: hunting threatens at-risk turtles and tortoises

DATE: 23rd April 2014

It may be surprising to learn that next only to primates, chelonians—or turtles and tortoises—are the world's most imperilled vertebrate group.

Arun Kanagavel of the Conservation Research Group at St. Albert's College in Kochi, India and his team conducted research on two rare chelonian species of India's tropical Western Ghats region, one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots . The research focused on the abundance and distribution of the Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo travancorica) and Cochin forest cane turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica). Both the Travancore tortoise and Cochin forest cane turtle are threatened with extinction. The tortoise is listed as Vulnerable and turtle as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Additionally, the team interviewed local communities and assessed threats to the chelonians. The study suggests low population densities for both species. The researchers note impacts of forest fires and collection of the chelonians for food by local communities. Of the respondents, 90 percent in indigenous communities and 54 percent in non-indigenous communities said they had consumed Tranvancore tortoise in their lifetime. The cane turtle was consumed by 32 percent of indigenous respondents, but by no non-indigenous interviewees. In addition to being used as a food source, the researchers found that seven percent of respondents considered tortoise meat to have medical properties that could aid in curing haemorrhoids. Others associated the meat with aphrodisiacs, curing asthma, increasing physical strength and promoting growth in children. Kanagavel suggests setting a limit for the number of chelonians that can be collected each year, or designing a centre managed by the indigenous communities with the goal of implementing breeding programs and showing the chelonians to tourists.

Link to this web article online (English)

A child holding a Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo travancorica) in an indigenous settlement.
© A. Kanagavel

A Travancore tortoise cooks in a fire. © A. Kanagavel

2. USA: Two new turtle species

DATE: 23rd April 2014

The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is the largest river turtle in North America, weighing up to 200 pounds (~90kg) and living almost a century. Now researchers from Florida and the University of Vermont have discovered that it is not one species — but three. Once heavily hunted for turtle meat in the 1960s — the riverine populations have been deeply depleted and are of conservation concern. The new discovery indicates that these animals are more imperiled than previously understood. The two new species both live in the southeastern United States. The Suwannee alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys suwanniensis) is found in Florida and Georgia — and lives only in the famed Suwannee River; it has been a distinct species for at least five million years. The Apalachicola alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys apalachicolae) lives in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama — in and around the Apalachicola River — and developed as an independent species at least three million years ago. The genetics work to identify the new lineages of turtles was completed by Joe Roman, a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont, and colleagues. The research was led by Travis Thomas, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission scientist, and is reported in the 9 th of April 2014 edition of the journal Zootaxa.

Link to this web article online (English)

© Michael C. Granatosky

3. Jacksonville , Florida , USA : Rescued sea turtles released in Jacksonville

DATE: 22nd April 2014

In celebration of Earth Day, New England Aquarium staff and volunteers released dozens of sea turtles in Jacksonville, Florida on Tuesday (22 nd April 2014) . These sea turtles are mostly juveniles, including 28 Kemp's Ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii), the world's most endangered sea turtle, two loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and one green (Chelonia mydas) sea turtles . They all washed up last November and December in the Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts. The waterway makes it difficult for the young turtles to navigation, and they slowly become hypothermic as water temperatures drop throughout the year. Staff and volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescue the endangered turtles. They are then transported to the New England Aquarium's sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Mass., where they are slowly rewarmed over several days and then treated for several months for malnourishment, dehydration, pneumonia and other blood and organ disorders that are a result of their time in frigid water. The sea turtles were transported from Boston in a 24-hour drive and were released into the warm Florida surf at Little Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville. Since 1990, the aquarium has treated and released more than 1,000 endangered and threatened sea turtles.

Link to this web article online (English)

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4. Labuan State, Malaysia: Hawksbill turtle carcasses found at Tanjung Purun beach

DATE: 22nd April 2014

The decomposed carcasses of two Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) were found washed ashore at the Tanjung Purun beach on the morning of 22nd April 2014. The 3.5-metre and 1.5-metre turtles were found by an employee of Labuan Marine Museum Department, Suriani Abd Ghani, who immediately alerted the Labuan Fisheries Department (LFD). LFD Marine Unit Base chief Jamari Abu Bakar stressed that although such occurrences were rare in Labuan, the authorities viewed the case seriously as it was important to protect the endangered species.

Link to this web article online (English)


5. Queensland State, Australia: Exotic pet turtles dumped in Toowoomba bird habitat

DATE: 23rd April 2014

A male Chinese stripe-necked turtle (Mauremys sinensis) was captured in the Toowoomba Waterbird Habitat in Queensland during an aquatic fauna survey for the Toowoomba Regional Council.

ATP NOTE: Mauremys sinensis is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered and natural occurs in Asia (Vietnam, China and Taiwan).

This freshwater turtle can be distinguished by the fine yellow and black lines that decorate the neck, for which this turtle is named. Surveyors found 10 turtles within the sample, which were not native to the catchment, which suggested a number of pet turtles may have been dumped. It is illegal to keep exotic turtles in Australia.

Link to this web article online (English)

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