• Chinese red-necked pond turtle

    Mauremys nigricans Gray, 1834

Re-breeding Project

Affected Species: Big headed form of the Red-necked pond turtle  (Mauremys nigricans Gray, 1834)
Location: Austria, Germany, Turkey, USA

Greater then 50% of the turtle species in Asia are acutely threatened with extinction and are listed with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the two highest levels as either “critically endangered” or “endangered.”

Many species come with an enormous price tag in China.  They are consumed as food, purchased as a status symbol and used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Wild animals are systematically collected from the low-income rural areas all over south Asia. This process is taking place at such a rapid pace that certain species that were still numerous and widespread just a few decades ago have not been recorded in the wild for many years. Since the 1980s, about 20,000 tons of turtles from the wild are annually sold on the Chinese food and TCM markets. Considering that an average turtle weighs about 1 kg, over 20 million animals are harvested every year. It is not very surprising that populations collapse.

Great attention is given to some of these species, while others seem to disappear almost unnoticed or have already disappeared.

TURTLE ISLAND wants to focus on these rather neglected species, one of them being the Red-necked pond turtle. With international cooperation, we have compiled a breeding group of the last remaining big headed Red-necked pond turtles in the western world. Together, through the contribution and help of numerous people from several countries, we can hope for offspring.

MORE INFOS ABOUT THE RED-NECKED POND TURTLE

Mauremys nigricans was described in 1834 by Gray. Originally, it was a rather common species and was inexpensively sold in the pet trade to the western world until a few years ago. The females appear uniform dark grey to black, and the males often display an intense red coloration on the head and soft tissues. If disturbed, M. nigricans can secrete a very unpleasant musky odor in defense.

The natural habitat of the Red-necked pond turtle is most probably confined to only the two southern Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong. Based on the findings of a prehistoric skull, the species perhaps also existed on Hainan Island in China and northern Vietnam. The extraordinary appetite for turtles in China has decimated natural stocks to such an extent that the last verified records of them being found in nature are from the 1930s. Because turtles have been traded and transported in China for millennia all over the country, species-specific taxonomic studies, which are based on reliable natural locality data, are almost impossible to conduct anymore. Morphological differences within the species have already been described by several authors. Two different forms can be clearly distinguished, not only in size and shape, but also in the number and size of their eggs. Unfortunately, taxonomic genetic studies to verify this observation were not carried out until today.

In China, a much smaller form (15-20 cm shell length) from Guangdong, producing a few large eggs, is differentiated from a larger form (25-30 cm shell length) from Western Guangxi and possibly north Vietnam.  This larger version has megacephaly (massive heads) and produces many small eggs. In human care, the “big-heads” prove to show significantly more intraspecific aggression than their smaller relatives and must be kept separately. This big- headed form also carries the charming name, the dumb-head, Red-necked pond turtle. The presumption that the size of the skull is the result of a locally different food specialization or of different age is not supported, as the juvenile “dumb-heads” already show larger heads and were raised under the same conditions and diet as small-headed specimens. Also very old small-headed animals are known to us. Thus, the food does not seem to be the key factor in skull size, just like the age. In human care, the small variant is maintained in overwhelming numbers. The larger form appears to have virtually disappeared from all stocks. Since almost astronomical prices will be paid in China for special types of turtles and these animals are considered an investment and status symbol, some species acquire prices which are speculated like shares on the stock market. In the last year, the price of the Chinese red-neck turtle was driven to unimagined heights, and the demand specifically for “dumb-heads” increased rapidly.

PROJECT INFORMATION

During our research, we only found one male and three females of the once numerous “dumb-heads” in Europe. In the United States, this form seems to have disappeared completely. Even in China, where the small-headed, Red-necked turtles exist in a still substantial number in farms, the “dumb-head” version is now extremely rare. The only male in Western care comes from the private collection of Waltraud and Ingo Pauler and was lovingly called “Markus” for nearly 40 years. Because Markus is the heart of this project and Waltraud and Ingo Pauler have provided their long-time companion for our breeding program, we want to dedicate this project to our recently passed away beloved friend Ingo and his wife Waltraud.

One of the females is a resident of Turtle Island. The second female was generously provided to us by a colleague as a breeding loan. In 2013, a female became available for purchase for a very high price.  We were able to raise enough money to purchase this female as an integral part of our breeding program with the help of many kind and generous people. Sundance Biology, a United States-based biological consulting firm, held a fundraiser with their tortoise biologists in the Mojave Desert and collected enough money for the purchase. Here we want to enumerate all persons, who have participated in rounding up of the breeding group, in chronological order, not on the degree of involvement.

Ingo und Waltraud Pauler (Germany)
Elmar Meier (Germany)
Till Ipser (Austria)
Peter Valentin (Austria)
Gerhard Egretzberger (Austria)
Michael Reimann (Turkey)
Sundance Biology, Mercy Vaughn (USA)
Tracy Taylor (USA)
Colden McClurg (USA)
Cynthia Furman (USA)
Shannon DiRuzzo (USA)
Mike Bassett (USA)
Thad Stewart (USA)
Deanna Sanderson (USA)
Kristine Foley (USA)
Brendan O’Brien (USA)
Leif Mjos (USA)
Alex Mach (USA)
Tom Bartels (USA)
Tony Dee (USA)
Sarah Clinger (USA)
Tim Hockin (USA)
Nathan Jones (USA)

WE WANT TO THANK ALL VOLUNTEERS!

We will report on the course of the breeding project continuously …

Did you know ...

Things you should know about this project:

Chinese red-necked pond turtle

The extraordinary appetite for turtles in China has decimated natural stocks to such an extent that the last verified records of them being found in nature are from the 1930s!

Conservation Meassures

Greater then 50% of the turtle species in Asia are acutely threatened with extinction and are listed with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the two highest levels as either “critically endangered” or “endangered.”

With international cooperation, we have compiled a breeding group of the last remaining big headed Red-necked pond turtles in the western world. Together, through the contribution and help of numerous people from several countries, we can hope for offspring.

OUR CONTRIBUTION

With international cooperation, we have compiled a breeding group of the last remaining big headed Red-necked pond turtles in the western world. Together, through the contribution and help of numerous people from several countries, we can hope for offspring.

PROJECT-COORDINATES.

predominant at Austria, Germany, USA, …

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