The Star Malaysia

River terrapins under threat

Monday June 20, 2005

IPOH: River terrapins, once found in huge numbers in Sungai Perak, are facing extinction following a sharp decline in the number of females of the species. Only 25 terrapins landed at the river?s sandy bank to lay eggs during the recent season which ended in February. The terrapins, which make their way upstream, each lay 20 to 40 eggs per season. Perak Tengah Wildlife chief Mohd Nazri Idrus said the decline started in 2002. Then, 68 terrapins came ashore compared with 181 the previous year. ?The sudden drop of terrapin landings in 2002 was due to the El-Nino effect. Since then the number of terrapin landings has continued to plunge by more than 50% each season. ?The fewer landings reflect the dwindling population of terrapins in Sungai Perak and we are a bit worried that the reptiles are in danger of extinction,? he said.

Mohd Nazri, who is also the caretaker of the River Terrapin Conservation and Breeding Centre in Bota Kanan, about 60km from here, said alteration in river flow, silting and water pollution were also why the terrapin population was dwindling. ?Human activities are also to be blamed as there are many cases of terrapins drowning after being trapped in fishing nets or getting snagged by fishing lines. ?These creatures are also affected when unscrupulous fishermen use poison to fish in the river,? he said.

Every year, the centre releases 500 to 600 young terrapins (known scientifically as Batagus baska or tuntung in Malay) into the river. Mohd Nazri said the centre had been working with the state Department of Environment to improve the water quality in the terrapin habitat. He said that previously river terrapins were a source of income for villagers along Sungai Perak, especially those in Kampung Teluk Kepayang, Pulau Padang and Kampung Layang-Layang in Bota Kanan, where the reptiles used to come in droves to lay eggs. Mohd Nazri said the eggs were consumed raw or boiled. They were considered to be good for the health, especially for relieving body aches. Mohd Nazri added, however, that the eggs were not good for those with diabetes or high blood pressure due to the eggs' high cholesterol content.

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