• The Northern River Terrapin

    Batagur baska (Gray, 1830)

  • The Northern River Terrapin

    our youngsters …

  • The Northern River Terrapin

    good prospects …

BATAGUR BASKA – A RIVER TURTLE STRUGGLES TO SURVIVE

Affected species: Batagur baska (Gray, 1830)
Location: north-east India, Bangladesh and Myanmar

The Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) is a large terrapin species, reaching a maximum shell length of approximately 60 cm. Their distribution is more or less confined to brackish water; they occur in estuaries, mangrove belts and inshore beds of marine vegetation in north-east India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. At the turn of the century, countless specimens still were lining up along the banks of the Hooghly River, several rivers in Orissa or at the mouth of the Irrawaddy River, but a consistent harvesting of turtles and their eggs brought the species to the brink of eradication.

The Northern River Terrapin is one of the three rarest turtle species in the world. Only a few adult specimens exist. At present, there are only 13 adult females known worldwide!

INTERESTING

Until recently, Batagur was supposed to be a monotypic genus (a genus containing only one species). Genetic studies on the taxonomy of this species showed clear differences between the northern and southern populations. Prior to this splitting, B. baska was already on the red list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Appendix I as “critically endangered.” Furthermore, the B. baska was listed as the fourth most endangered turtle species on the earth in “Turtles in Trouble: The Worlds 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtle-2011,” released by the IUCN. The Northern River Terrapin is listed among “the World’s 100 most threatened species “, a compilation of the most threatened animals, plants, and fungi in the world from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), along with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Through the genetic differentiation of separating the northern and southern populations, the Northern River Terrapin Batagur baska came in the spotlight of all conservation organizations. In a joint project, Turtle Island and the Vienna Zoo house the only breeding groups outside of their native range. This breeding group represents 20% of known founder specimens and can play an important role for the long-term survival of this special species.

PROJECT INFORMATION

In India and Bangladesh, not a single B. baska has been spotted in nature since the 1990s. We searched for existing populations in Orissa and West Bengal and later expanded the search into mangrove areas in Bangladesh. Information from fishermen about possible last refuges proved to be wrong. After almost three years of field work and research in the illegal turtle trade, the team found the first three Batagur turtles in a village pond in the south of Bangladesh in autumn 2009. These harmless herbivores are kept as talismans in fish farming ponds. In addition, they enrich the dining plan of their owners on demand. The eggs are considered a special delicacy and get collected immediately after they are laid. The first individuals were bought from the owners and brought to a conservation center in Bhawal National Park, a protected area under the administration of the Bangladesh Forest Department. Thus, the Project‐Batagur was born! 

  • INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

    In collaboration with the Bangladesh Forest Department and with the financial support of nature conservation organizations (WWF Canada, Turtle Survival Alliance, IUCN Bangladesh) and significant assistance from the Vienna Zoo, the area was fenced for the protection of animals, and two ponds were equipped with sand banks to create conditions for breeding in the following years.

  • COOPERATION WTH THE VIENNA ZOO

    In addition, two adult couples and one additional female from the private collection of R. and P. Praschag were transferred into the Vienna Zoo in the spring of 2010. In May 2010, the zoo produced two offspring–the world’s first captive breeding of the Northern River Terrapin. The controlled breeding in human care is necessary as an immediate measure for the survival of this species. The national and even international media coverage regarding the captive breeding at Vienna Zoo exceeded all expectations. The broad public attention has allowed the zoo to participate significantly in long-term protection actions and to promote conservation efforts in and outside of Bangladesh through logistical, technical and financial assistance.

    After the founding of Turtle Island, one male and two females from the Vienna Zoo went back to Graz.

Meanwhile, 13 males and 6 females of B. baska inhabited Bhawal National Park, and a total of 84 hatchlings were born in spring 2012 and 2013 and raised. Nevertheless, several more steps must be undertaken before the project “Batagur Going Home” can be started.

Almost all knowledge of B. baska refers to the southern sister species, B. affinis. Virtually nothing is known about the biology and ecology of the northern form. During the last two seasons, three wild-born hatchlings were caught in nets of local fishing men giving evidence of still existing nesting females in the wild. To further protect them, the focus will be on locating the last remaining nesting beaches. It will be essential to affix satellite transmitters to a few wild specimens to learn their natural behaviors; e.g., migration routes and patterns. The preferred approach would be a combination of in-situ protection measures for the animal and protection of the habitat.

However, there are important immediate measures that ensure long-term breeding: firstly, the establishment of a second breeding facility in a more southern area of Bangladesh, which is or at least used to be their natural habitat; secondly, the establishement of a studbook, based on the genetic data of all available specimens to create breeding lineages. For latter, in fall 2013, we obtained tissue samples of all adults and juveniles, which will soon be evaluated. We are currently separating the big pond into segments for breeding pairs. For the planned second breeding facility, which is of great importance for both the future reintroduction and as a safety‐backup, the financial base is still lacking.

Did you know ...

Things you should know about this project:

The northern river terrapin

The Northern River Terrapin is one of the three rarest turtle species in the world. Only a few adult specimens exist. At present, there are only 13 adult females known worldwide!

Conservation Meassures

The B. baska was listed as the fourth most endangered turtle species on the earth in “Turtles in Trouble: The Worlds 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtle-2011,” released by the IUCN.

Two adult couples and one additional female from the private collection of R. and P. Praschag were transferred into the Vienna Zoo in the spring of 2010. In May 2010, the zoo produced two offspring– the world’s first captive breeding of the Northern River Terrapin.

OUR CONTRIBUTION

In a joint project, Turtle Island and the Vienna Zoo house the only breeding groups outside of their native range. This breeding group represents 20% of known founder specimens and can play an important role for the long-term survival of this special species.

Project-Coordinates.

Bhawal Nationalpark,
Bangladesh

Project-Partner.

Thanks to our partners for the great support …

THANK YOU!

partner_tierpark-schoenbrunn
partner_WWF
partner_IUCN
partner_TSA
partner_petstop

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