Source: Myanmar Times
Critically endangered turtles found in Rakhine State
The team consisted of scientists from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as well as staff from the WCS Myanmar office and the Forest Department?s Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division.
The turtles were thought to be extinct until 1994, when conservationists found a few specimens in captivity in a Chinese food market.
In 2000 a team consisting of WCS scientists from the US, local WCS staff and Forest Department staff found an Arakan forest turtle in the northern Rakhine Yoma mountain range.
Then, on May 31 of this year, members of a WCS survey team found five of the turtles in the Rakhine Yoma Elephant Sanctuary, according to a WCS report released on September 7.
The 175,000 hectare sanctuary, established in 2002 and administered by the Forests Department, lies in the heart of the Rakhine Yoma Priority Corridor, a contiguous block of lowland semi-evergreen, evergreen and mixed deciduous forest that stretches from Myanmar?s border with Bangladesh to the Ayeyarwady delta.
?We are delighted and astonished that this extremely rare species is alive and well in Myanmar. Now we must do what we can to protect the remaining population,? Colin Poole, WCS director of Asian programs, said in the statement
He added that turtles were being wiped out throughout Asia by poachers for the illegal wildlife trade.
The discovery of five of the brown-and-tan-spotted turtles, each less than one foot in length, was made by Mr Platt and WCS staff during a survey of wildlife in the sanctuary. The team reached the area using a small boat and endured torrential rains and leech infestations before they found the first turtles, the report said.
?We picked late May and early June as the time for the expedition because the turtles are more active in the rainy season and easier to find,? she said.
?We found five turtles and after we recorded them, we released them back into nature. We plan to go back and conduct a survey to determine the exact number of turtles, but we don?t know when that will happen yet,? said Daw Khin Myo Myo.
The WCS report recommended several ways to ensure that the turtles remain protected in the sanctuary. These include training local staff, conservation groups and graduate students to work in the protected area collecting additional data on the species, and establishing permanent guard posts on roads leading to the park to stop potential poaching.
The Arakan forest turtle (Heosemys depressa) was named after its native habitat in the Rakhine Yoma, which were formally called the Arakan Yoma. But locals call it pyant cheezar, which means ?turtles that eat rhinoceros faeces?. Sumatran rhinos were once found in the area, but vanished about 50 years ago due to hunting, according to the WCS.
Listed by IUCN as one of the 25 most threatened turtles in the world, Arakan forest turtles are difficult to establish in captivity. There are only 14 at institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the United States.
Zoo Atlanta, the only facility in the world that is successfully breeding the turtle, announced in May 2007 that it had hatched an Arakan forest turtle for the fourth time since 2001. The turtle, hatched on April 25, was small enough to fit in a serving spoon, according to the zoo.