Asian Turtle Program
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No. 93, 16th August 2013

1. Michigan, USA: Giant tortoises make excellent lawn mowers

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times;
DATE: 8th July, 2013

Giant island tortoises make the best lawn mowers, according to a new study. In an effort to control the alien plants that had dominated the small Round Island near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean for decades, scientists introduced two types of land tortoises, the Aldabran giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) and the Madagascan radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata). Scientists constructed enclosed study plots of vegetation, recording the type and abundance of all plants in the plots. Next, captive-bred tortoises from Mauritius were brought to Round Island. Christine Griffiths, the lead author of the study, and her team released two tortoises in each enclosed study plot and established control plots without any tortoises. They then monitored the plants' response over the next 11 months. Since there were few native plants in the plots, they were excluded from the analysis. Over the course of the study period, the tortoises vastly reduced the height, abundance, and biomass of the alien plants. The Aldabran tortoises were especially effective, reducing plant biomass 136 times more than in the control plots. To further test the tortoises, the team let them freely range over the island and then collected their faeces. Examining the seeds and other plant parts left in the fecal samples, they found that 81% of the Aldabran tortoise diet consisted of alien plants, while the Madagascan diet was 93% alien. Almost three quarters of the native plants available in the range remained untouched. Griffiths' team conducted a final economic analysis, comparing the cost of using tortoises to weed the island versus the cost of wardens manually performing the task. Although it would cost more to use tortoises for the first six years, they calculated, after that it would become more expensive to rely on people. The cumulative cost of salary, food, transportation and equipment for human weeders would surpass the initial cost of introducing tortoises — and maintaining tortoises over time is practically cost-free.

Link to this web article online (English)

© Christine Griffiths

2. Quang Ngai province, Vietnam: Quang Ngai province increases efforts to protect turtles

SOURCE: Academy of Sciences and Technology
DATE: 24th of July, 2013

On the 1st of June 2013, the People's Committee of Quang Ngai has written an official dispatch No. 2386/UBND-NNTN which supports and promotes the construction of a rescue centre for the critically endangered and endemic Vietnamese Pond turtle (Mauremys annamensis) and the establishment of a species habitat conservation area in central Binh Son District , Quang Ngai. The Southern Institute of Ecology under the Academy of Science and Technology of Vietnam will be a key partner with the Asian Turtle Program implementing this project.

Link to this web article online (Vietnamese)

© Vũ Ngọc Long

3. USA: Revealed At Local Seminar: Turtles Talk To Each Other

DATE: 9th August, 2013

Not only are turtles not deaf but they vocalise to each other — even before they break out of their shells, to “dig out of the nest together”, explains researcher Dr Richard Vogt with the National Institute for Amazon Research.
Vogt said he noticed turtles moving their mouths underwater as far back as 1975 and when he used hydrophones and microphones to record sound underwater he was amazed by what he heard. “We took the hydrophone one day and put it down in the aquarium that had turtles in it,” Vogt says. “And yes, they were vocalizing!” Another revelation is that turtles are much better parents than previously thought and instead of abandoning their new-borns to fend for themselves, will use vocalisations to guide young turtles to places where they can find food. The new information on turtle vocalization should explode some previously-held notions that turtles are “pre-programmed” to find their way back home no matter where they're dropped off, but instead are guided by the voices of other turtles.

Link to this web article online (English)


4. Costa Rica: An Unlikely Solution: Saving Sea Turtles by Eating Their Eggs

DATE: 12th August, 2013

On certain nights of the year, on the beach at Ostional, Costa Rica, tens of thousands of female olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) come clambering ashore over two or three nights to lay their eggs in the sand. These mass nesting events, arribadas , may occur a half-dozen times over a year. And each time, for the first two days, local villagers come out to harvest and sell as many eggs as they can lay their hands on, which is entirely legal.  This has been operating for more 25 years, and the turtles seem to be thriving. The key to the harvest is that many of the eggs laid early in the arribada end up being destroyed by subsequent waves of turtles scrambling to lay their eggs in the same place. Those broken eggs rot, and the microbial soup of decomposition may also reduce the hatching rate for later eggs. In theory, at least, removing the first two days of eggs could even increase the number of turtles produced at Ostional.  The harvest is now managed by a local development administration, ADIO, and the national Ministry of Environment and Energy. The egg harvest has become the primary source of income for 70 percent of local households. The harvest may seem particularly shocking given that Costa Rica has carefully cultivated a reputation as a green destination. On the opposite coast, moreover, a conservationist was murdered earlier this year while trying to prevent poachers from raiding the nests of another sea turtle species. But Ostional is different, and for its many supporters, it constitutes an important success for community-based conservation, which is the controversial idea that you can protect a natural resource by engaging the local population to manage and profit from it.

Link to this web article (English)


© Olivier Blaise/Getty

5. German: Germans hunt turtle after attack on boy

SOURCE:; – DATE: 12th August, 2013

Residents of a German town have joined a determined search for a turtle blamed for attacking an eight-year old German boy on holiday. His Achilles tendon was severed in two places, and zoologists later concluded that a turtle had probably attacked him. A lake was drained at the weekend in the hunt for what is suspected to be an alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). Fire-fighters and local helpers at the Oggenrieder Weiher, in Bavaria, are wading through mud hoping to find the reptile, which is not a native species. The turtle, nicknamed Lotti, is likely to be some 40cm long and weighs at least 14kg.The local mayor has offered a 1,000-euro (28.3 million dong; $1,330) reward for whoever finds Lotti, while warning against any attempt to trap the turtle without expert help. Lotti may be lying low in the thick mud, so it could be a long and perhaps fruitless search. About 500 fish were transferred to a nearby pond when the lake was drained in the hunt for the turtle. Such turtles are native to North America, so German authorities believe the reptile must have been released into the lake by its owner. Since 1999 there has been a ban on keeping alligator snapping turtles in Germany, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports on its website.

Link 1 to this web article online (English)

Link 2 to this web article online (English)

Link 3 to this web article online (Vietnamese)


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