Zoos Play an Important Role in the Survival of this Species.
Ojai, CA – Jan. 17, 2017 – A critically endangered Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa) hatched at the Turtle Conservancy’s center in California on January 12, 2017. It is the first hatching of this species at the Turtle Conservancy, one of only 28 ever recorded in the United States, and the first to hatch in the past two years.
The Arakan Forest Turtle was thought to be extinct, having last been seen in 1908, until it was rediscovered in 1994 in a food market in China. The species was originally found only in the hills of Western Myanmar, and was just discovered in nearby Bangladesh.
“This is a great step forward for a species that was once thought to be gone forever,” said Dr. Paul Gibbons, Chief Operating Officer of the Turtle Conservancy. “Hopefully our efforts, along with our global partners, will ensure that the Arakan Forest Turtle never faces extinction again.”
The Turtle Conservancy is the only facility certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) dedicated solely to the conservation of turtles and tortoises. The non-profit organization is working with the AZA and other zoos in the United States to ensure breeding success and genetic diversity of some of the most imperiled species.
This hatchling represents a rare example of second-generation captive breeding, as the Turtle Conservancy raised its parents for more than ten years after they themselves hatched in captivity. The Conservancy is home to one male and four female adult Arakan Forest Turtles, along with over 700 other endangered turtles and tortoises. The animals make up an “assurance colony” that is directed toward establishing a genetically viable population until conservationists can stabilize threatened wild populations.
“We hope that one day many of these animals will be returned to their native countries,” said Turtle Conservancy co-founder and president Eric Goode. “Ours was the first organization in the US to return endangered turtles to their native range, but the task still remains of protecting their habitat for the long term.”
To date, the Turtle Conservancy has protected 45,000 acres of wild land for endangered flora and fauna, including turtles and tortoises. Efforts are already underway to protect habitat in Asia, which could provide a solution for returning Arakan Forest Turtles to the wild.
The Arakan Forest Turtle is classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The population is declining due to black market demand across Asia for food, traditional medicine and pet trade.
Turtles and tortoises are the most endangered group of vertebrates on the planet. Approximately 365 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises exist and over half are threatened with extinction due to illegal trade and habitat loss. The Turtle Conservancy works to alleviate threats to highly endangered turtles around the world by protecting land and captive breeding.