Conservation Problem

River Terrapins were once abundant in the major river systems of South and Southeast Asia, from the Mekong to the Ganges; however, a variety of human activities now threaten the survival of these large turtles. Five of the six species in the genus Batagur are ranked Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List and face imminent extinction unless these threats can be reduced. Batagur eggs are widely harvested for domestic consumption every year, a process made easier because females congregate every year at about the same time to deposit eggs at known beaches and sandbars. Large adults are also harvested for food, and nesting females - the most important segment for sustaining the population - make up the majority of this catch, becoming easy prey when they emerge to lay eggs. Other turtles are harvested as a by-product of fishing activities or accidentally drown in fishing nets. Rampant commercial harvest of adult and juvenile turtles to meet the demands of food markets in southern China has decimated some populations.

Project Activities

The best “points of access” to help Batagur populations to recover, are the nesting beaches that are critical to sustain populations and ensure survival. Monitoring nesting beach activity is generally the only opportunity to determine wild population numbers. The annual emergence of females to lay eggs on well-known and often historic nesting beaches is the most vulnerable stage of their annual life cycle, and it is here where protective conservation measures have proven the most effective. This conservation program will focus on these nesting beaches using tried and tested conservation techniques – guarding females, protecting the eggs and often moving them to safe areas for incubation, and collecting hatchlings as they emerge from the nest. In the National Chambal River Sanctuary in India, thousands of both Batagur kachuga and Batagur dhongoka nests are saved annually by moving them to protected hatcheries where the eggs are safe from jackal predation. An estimated 80% of those nests would be lost without this programme, and today tens of thousands of hatchling Batagur are released into the river.

Raising hatchlings in captivity until they are large enough to avoid predation – a technique known as headstarting – is being used successfully in Batagur conservation programs in India, Myanmar, and Cambodia. However, in the case of the Sunderbans River Terrapin, Batagur baska, no active nesting beaches are known in either India or Bangladesh, so the reliance is on captive breeding to restore populations. By establishing assurance colonies of this species survival can be assured and options maintained for their recovery once protected habitat can be identified. Most Batagur species are considered conservation dependent, meaning their populations would not persist without these intensive recovery efforts. By ensuring survival of both eggs and hatchlings, and protecting nesting females at this extremely vulnerable stage of their life cycle, this project will guarantee the next generation of river terrapins.

Project Outcomes

In Cambodia it is expected the total number of Batagur affinis will increase by 15% for each of the next two years, and that 25 headstarted turtles will be released during each of the next two years, thereby increasing the wild population by 200%. Furthermore a 10% increase is projected for the number of nests deposited and protected in-situ each year.

A pedigree mating system for Batagur baska held in captive assurance colonies will be implemented in Bangladesh. This will maximize the genetic potential of multiple males and ensure the diversity of bloodlines in this small population. The integration of new founder stock into these small captive populations will continue by acquiring old wild-caught adults being kept in village ponds. Surveys in the Sunderbans will take place to determine if any Batagur baska remain in the wild, and if so, identification of active nesting will be performed. Once viable nesting beaches have been founds, these sites can be protected, eggs gathered and incubated, and hatchlings collected for rearing. These surveys will also hopefully identify suitable sites where the species can be reintroduced. In India, the TSA team will work to improve the existing breeding facility at the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, which is expected to increase the number of both eggs and hatchlings.

In India the number of Batagur kachuga produced in riverside hatcheries will increase by 25% during each of the next two years, and 100 of these hatchlings will be head-started every year at the TSA supported Deori and Garhaita Turtle Conservation Centers. Pending permit approval a second population of Batagur kachuga will be established in a protected area of the Son River by releasing 50 head-started turtles during each of the next two years. The aim is to document an 80% post-release survivorship of 25 head-started Batagur kachuga by monitoring via sonic telemetry. It is predicted that the number of Batagur kachuga accidentally drowned in illegal fishing nets set in the Chambal River will decrease by 25% during each of the next two years. An attempt to verify the occurrence of a hitherto undocumented population of Batagur kachuga reported from the Brahmaputra River by local turtle traders will also be made. The expansion of current assurance colony holdings at the Kukrail Gharial and Turtle Conservation Center will grow from seven turtles (2 females and 5 males) to 50 (25 females and 25 males) by retaining turtles in current headstarting programmes.

  • India Batagur baska hatch at MCBT, SOS SAve Our Species, TSA
    River Terrapins Hatch Throughout Asia
    Throughout Asia, from remote nesting beaches to captive breeding facilities, River Terrapins (genus Batagur) have recently completed their hatching season once again, reports Rick Hudson of the Turtle...
  • SOS - Save our Species, Terrapin turtles, WCS, TSA, 12A-031
    One of World’s Rarest Turtles Heading Back to the Wild
    Great news from Cambodia, one of the four countries where the Turtle Survival Alliance and its partners are implementing an SOS-funded project to help protect and conserve the South East Asian Terrapi...
  • 12A-031-046, Batagur baska, TSA, Turtle Survival Alliance, AGJ Morshed, SOS, Save our species, Sauvons nos espèces
    Les tortues fluviales font leur grand retour en Asie
    Rick Hudson, président de la Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), a communiqué les dernières nouvelles à SOS à travers une brève revue des nidifications réussies au Bangladesh pour plusieurs espèces de tor...
  • 12A-31-10
    Batagur species combined
  • 12A_31_02
    Batagur affinis female Cambodia Sre Ambel
  • 12A-31-15, TSA, SOS Save Our Species, Batagur Bhaska,
    Rupali and Hatchlings
Rick Hudson
Rick Hudson TSA Burma
“Turtles have declined to the all too common problems of overharvesting of both adults and eggs for human consumption. Habitat loss and degradation such as sand mining, dam construction, and pollution have also contributed to this species’ decline.” – Rick Hudson, President of Turtle Survival Alliance
Did You Know: Five species of the Batagur river terrapin family rank in the Top 25 Turtles in Trouble 2011 according to the Turtle Conservation Coalition
SOS - Save Our Species
>> A global coalition to conserve threatened species and their habitats