The Star, Malaysia
August 25, 2005

A fun, rewarding experience awaits visitors

By MAZNI MUSTAFA
Photos by SAIFUL BAHRI

The River Terrapin Conservation and Breeding Centre in Bota Kanan, Central Perak, is a good place for a weekend or school holiday outing with your family.

A staff member of the centre checking on the terrapins in one of the ponds.

Located about 44km south-west of Ipoh, the centre offers a fun and rewarding experience for all visitors.

However, the best time to visit is between November and February, the nesting season of the terrapins.

The centre, built on a one-hectare site in 1968, is managed by the State Wildlife and National Parks Department. It conducts studies on the habits of the reptile which has the scientific name of Batagur baska - better known among the local village folk as tuntung sungai.

In the early 70s, the centre?s role switched to focusing on breeding programmes when terrapin numbers started to dwindle.

Terrapin Breeding Centre head Mohd Nazri Idrus said the centre had 1,664 terrapins, including the first batch of 30 females, which were now 35 years old.

?We have to preserve and protect the existing population of river terrapins and their habitat.

?We do this through research and captive management, and by controlling the exploitation of the eggs,? he said.

Nazri, who is also Perak Tengah Wildlife chief, said the centre had released 35,000 young terrapins into Sungai Perak since the breeding programme started in 1975.

The centre, the biggest terrapin breeding ground in the country, has an exhibition area that gives visitors an insight into the reptile.

The story of how Sungai Perak became the most important home for river terrapins in Malaysia is also available at the centre.

According to history, the river terrapins were presented as a gift to the third Sultan of Perak, Sultan Muzaffar Shah II, when he called on the Sultan of Kedah in the mid-17th century.

Sultan Muzaffar took back the river terrapins to Perak and raised them in captivity before releasing them in Bota Kanan, where they thrived.

In the 1930s, it was estimated that around 10,000 female terrapins made their way upstream annually from the Hilir Perak district to the Perak Tengah district to lay an estimated 650,000 eggs on the river's sandy banks.

One of the ponds being covered with netting to prevent it from exposed to direct sunlight, which could damage the shell of the reptiles.

During the nesting season, riverbanks and sandbanks in the Bota Kanan area apparently appeared black in colour as thousands of females jostled for laying spots.

However, things are different now and the reptiles are in danger of extinction, with only 25 female terrapins found to have laid their eggs in the wild so far.

In a small laboratory at the centre, there is a display of the preserved eggs of various species of reptiles - terrapin, python, turtle and mud turtle.

Other exhibits include the carapace of a terrapin, the feet of an elephant, crocodile, pangolin and civet cat.

Outside the building are seven ponds which can accommodate about 2,300 river terrapins at a time.

Mohd Nazri said about 1,000 people visited the centre monthly during the off-peak season and the number doubled during school holidays.

?Foreign visitors are mainly from Australia and Japan,? he said, adding that it was a popular referral place for research.

Getting to the centre
THE River Terrapin Conservation and Breeding Centre in Bota Kanan is on the right bank of Sungai Perak.

It is about a 45-minute drive from Ipoh, via the Ipoh-Lumut road.

Motorists from Ipoh should turn left at the Bota Kanan traffic light junction to get to the centre located 500m away.

The centre is about 50km from Lumut, where motorists are required to turn right after passing the Idris bridge.

The centre opens from 8am to 12.45pm and from 2pm to 4.15pm on weekdays and from 8am to 12.45pm on Saturdays. Entrance is free.

For more information, call the centre at 05-376 272.


This article can be found at thestar.com.my