PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan -- Hope springs eternal for the critically endangered Palawan forest turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis) after conservationists in the province successfully hatched a single egg following about 10 years of hard work.
Dr. Sabine Schoppe, director of the Palawan Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program (PFTCP) of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI), on Friday said they have hatched the first recorded egg from captive parents of the freshwater turtle with support from the Wildlife Reserve Singapore (WRS).
An extremely sought-after species in the illegal wildlife trade, the Palawan forest turtle is an endemic freshwater turtle in the province that has faced threats, mainly due to the brazen collection. The Turtle Conservancy is protecting this species through rescue efforts during trade confiscations and by supporting habitat purchase and protection, most recently last January when nearly 2,000 acres of critical rainforest habitat were secured for future releases.
The hatchling that emerged from its egg on June 24 was named “Sonja,” and it is from parents that have been dwelling for years in their “assurance colony” facilities in Palawan.
“Five years ago, with support from WRS, we intensified research on the Palawan forest turtle, and now have a better understanding of their food preferences, incubation requirements like humidity and temperature, incubation time, nesting prerequisites, enclosure and furniture design, and necessary environmental conditions to trigger reproduction,” she said.
Schoppe, who has been studying and researching the species for the past 15 years, explained that assurance colonies are usually established for species that are facing threats and might go extinct in the wild.
Any Palawan forest turtle that will be raised in captivity will be part of this colony for release later in areas where its population has seriously declined due to poaching for the wildlife trade.
Dr. Sabine Schoppe (right), director of the Palawan Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program (PFTCP) of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI), is seen in this photo while holding a Palawan forest turtle with her assistant, Diverlie Acosta. She recently announced their successful hatching of a single egg of the endemic freshwater turtle species following about 10 years of conservation work. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Sabine Schoppe)
“After hatching the first one, we are very positive that we will have more. The aim of the assurance colony is to breed them for conservation for eventual release back to the wild,” she said. Schoppe added while there has been successful incubation of eggs from “wild-caught” Palawan forest turtle, she warned against referring to such cases as “captive breed” as it might predictably launder the act to facilitate trade.
“Captive breeding implies the production of offspring from parents under human care, so the hatching of eggs of gravid wild-caught females does not qualify as true captive breeding,” said. Dr. Sonja Luz, director of the Conservation, Research and Veterinary Services of WRS and to whom the newly-hatched freshwater turtle was named.
Luz said the hatching is a landmark accomplishment in reproduction efforts to save the species. “The recent breeding success is a true milestone in the conservation of this important species and gives us hope that we can turn things around even for lesser known species in this region,” she said.
Jovic Fabello, staff spokesperson of the independent and multi-disciplinary body Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), said the hatching of the turtle egg is an optimistic achievement in the conservation of the species that has importance in the balance of the ecological system.
“This is encouraging news for the conservation of the Palawan forest turtle and it is a testimony to the effective breeding practices put in place as far back as years ago. It shows the dedication of the people who work with them,” he said.