Batagur baska - The Northern Terrapin fighting for its survival
The Northern River Terrapin is a river turtle that can reach a length of up to 60 cm (23.6 in). This giant river turtle lives in river mouths and mangrove forests in North Eastern India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar
Until the turn of this century, countless turtles dotted the rivers, however, overfishing and harvesting of eggs have pushed this species to the brink of extinction.
How big is the threat?
The Northern River Terrapin ranks among the Top 3 most endangered turtle species in the world. Worldwide, only few adult animals remain and among them, there are no more than 13 sexually mature females.
In India and Bangladesh in the 90’s, no Northern River Terrapins could be found, and searches of natural habitats were also without results. The Northern River Terrapin had been classified as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and added to their list of the Top 25 most endangered turtle species
About the TURTLE ISLAND Project
We searched for populations in Orissa (Odhissa) and West Bengal and later expanded this search to the mangrove forests in Bangladesh. After almost 3 years of field work and research into the illegal turtle trade, we discovered the first 3 Northern River Terrapins living in a pond in a village in southern Bangladesh. Because they are gentle herbivores, these turtles are often considered good luck charms in fish breeding ponds. The eggs are a renowned delicacy; after the female lays the eggs, they are immediately dug up and consumed.
We purchased these 3 turtles; then relocated them to a protected reserve in Bhawal National Park with the support of the Bangladesh Forest Department, and ‘Project Batagur’ was officially born!
TURTLE ISLAND and the Vienna Zoo have co-founded a project to create the only Northern River Terrapin breeding group outside of their countries of origin. This breeding group contains around 20% of first-generation animals and will play an important role in the long-term preservation of this extraordinary species.
In May 2010, two baby northern River Terrapins hatched. This was the first instance worldwide of successful captive breeding for this species. The controlled breeding and hatching of this turtle in captivity is an immediate measure that is necessary to guarantee the survival of this species.
These turtles have reproduced every single year in Graz, which will enable us in the near future to return the first descendants to their countries of origin.
Our breeding stations in Bhawal Nationalpark house more than 20 male and 8 female Northern River Terrapins. Since 2012, these turtles have produced more than 200 hatchlings. In spite of these successes. we need to carry out more work before we can launch project ‘Batagur Going Home.’
In 2016, we attached satellite transmitters to two large males and released them in Sundarban National Park. Unfortunately, we lost the signal from one of the males after one week. The turtle had come too close to a fishing village. The second male had been returned to the station after being caught twice by fishermen.
In 2018, we released five more animals that all met the same fate. Unfortunately, the habitat range for this particular turtle far exceeds the area covered by the nature reserve.
Without awareness campaigns, further reintroduction efforts into the wild will not be successful.