An Enigmatic Turtle in an Enigmatic Place
The Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi), first formally described in 1995, is a species of turtle endemic to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The name Leucocephalon refers to the distinctive white head coloration found in males of the species, while yuwonoi refers to the notorious animal dealer Franck Yuwono, who was the first to obtain specimens of this turtle.
As the name implies, the Sulawesi Forest Turtle is found in cool mountain streams in the forests of northern Sulawesi. Juveniles are primarily aquatic, but adults split their time between under the dense forest canopy during the day and in the streams at night. These turtles are omnivorous, feeding on invertebrates, vegetation, and fruit.
The species is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Like most species of endangered turtles and tortoises, the Sulawesi Forest Turtle is mainly threatened by the illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction. In 1998, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Sulawesi Forest Turtles were exported to China. The Indonesian government subsequently outlawed turtle exportation in 2002. However, the illegal trade of turtles out of Sulawesi continues. Rampant deforestation due to agriculture, palm oil plantations, and other human activities has also decimated the species, especially considering their small range. Research in the field for this species is currently carried out by Sulawesi Chelonian Conservation. The Turtle Conservancy has been studying this species since 2012, and has identified the single source in Sulawesi of turtle exports for the wildlife trade.
Even if the trends of exploitation and habitat loss were diminished, recovery of the species is challenged by the fact that females lay only one or two eggs per clutch. Sulawesi Forest Turtles do exist in assurance colonies, but the species has proven difficult to maintain and breed in captivity.
The Turtle Conservancy received a group of Sulawesi Forest Turtles that were confiscated from the illegal trade and are now maintained at our conservation center in California. We rely on support from donors like you to continue our work in protecting the planet’s most endangered turtles and tortoises. Please consider making a donation today.