The critically endangered mangrove terrapin (Batagur baska), Asia’s largest fresh water turtle has been found in a mangrove swamp of western Thailand.
The female terrapin found by a local fisherman, is thought to have been on its way to nest when it was caught. Luckily the fisherman realised it was something special and contacted a local specialist from WWF Thailand’s Marine and Coastal Resources Unit.
In the past, the mangrove terrapin was hunted in their thousands for its eggs, meat and shells. Not surprisingly this has caused a sharp decline in their numbers, and along with over-hunting, the loss of their habitat and nesting areas (beaches) has meant they are almost extinct in the wild.
Dr Chavalit Vidthayanon, a freshwater biologist at WWF Thailand said “She is probably very lucky that she wasn’t eaten or sold to a wildlife trader,”.
The Batagur or mangrove terrapin (Batagur baska) is a species of riverine turtle. It is one of the most critically-endangered turtle species according to a 2003 assessment by the IUCN. Batagur baska is a rare and endangered Asian river terrapin also called the “Royal Turtle” in Cambodia because its eggs were a royal delicacy.
Many Asian turtles are in danger because of the thriving trade in animals in the region, where a species’ rarity can add to its value on a menu or as a traditional medicine.
The species was thought to have disappeared in Cambodia until it was rediscovered in 2001. Conservationists eventually began tagging the animals with tracking devices and monitoring their nests, and King Norodom Sihamoni personally ordered their protection.
In Malaysia, rivers of Kedah, Perak and Terengganu are major nesting grounds though the population continues to crash despite conservation efforts undertaken by Malaysian Wildlife Department for over 20 years. Pasir Temir and Pasir Lubuk Kawah by the Terengganu River are the largest nesting sites for Batagur baska in the world.