BY K. SUTHAKAR
SETIU: The population of the river terrapin has declined drastically and the Government should declare it a protected species, said a turtle conservation expert.
Douglas B. Hendrie said Malaysia was the last ?stronghold? for the river terrapin in South Asia as the species had disappeared in Vietnam and was on the verge of extinction in Cambodia, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
?Malaysia plays an important role as a large number of river terrapins are still found in some rivers.
?But they have not been included in the list of protected animals under the Wildlife Act,? he said during a visit to Sungai Setiu with 12 scientists and researchers from six countries.
Boatman Nik Sing Awang, Prof Chan and Hendrie untangling a painted terrapin that was caught during a sampling programme in Sungai Setiu, Terengganu, on Tuesday.
The group is attending a five-day workshop on river terrapins organised by Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia (Kustem), the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and Cleveland Metropark Zoo.
Hendrie, the Asia Region Turtle Conservation Coordinator and is based in Vietnam, said Sungai Perak used to have the largest population of river terrapins in the country but a recent sampling showed a ?painful? decline.
?Only 45 nests were discovered this year compared with over 900 in 1996,? he said, adding that the nesting period is from February to April.
He said the decline in the nesting was alarming since 40,000 juvenile terrapins had been released into the river since 1975.
?We do not know the reasons yet but it (the decline in population) could be due to their inability to breed or to loss of food resources, or they were caught in fishing nets or hit by boat engines,? he said.
Turtle scientist Prof Chan Eng Heng of Kustem, who runs a turtle conservation programme in Sungai Setiu, said there was great demand for the turtle eggs for consumption.
She said the Sea Turtle Research Unit (Seatru) of Kustem used to pay RM10 to buy three eggs for conservation programmes last year but an egg now cost RM4.
After taking into account extra wages for fishermen to collect the eggs, the price could reach RM8 per egg, she said.
She said Seatru raised the money to buy the eggs mainly from members of the public who adopt the hatchlings.
For details, call her at 09-668 3251 / 3313. Her e-mail is [email protected]
Article from The Star - Malaysia