Home Science Rare smiling turtle is rescued from the brink of extinction by conservationists

Rare smiling turtle is rescued from the brink of extinction by conservationists

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Rare turtle species known for its cheeky ‘smiling’ expression is rescued from the brink of extinction by conservationists

  • Burmese roofed turtle was feared by conservationists as extinct in 2000 
  • A few specimens were found and a breeding programme was established 
  • There are now more than 1,000 of the turtles alive in Myanmar and it is not thought to be at risk of extinction   

A turtle with a permanent smile on its face now has good reason for its happy expression as it has been saved from near extinction. 

The Burmese roofed turtle has bulging eyes as well as its upturned lips and measures up to two foot long when fully grown. 

Its numbers have grown upwards of 1,000 after an ambitious conservation programme spanning the last 20 years.  

The Burmese roofed turtle (pictured) has protruding eyes as well as its upturned lips and measures up to two foot long when fully grown

The Burmese roofed turtle (pictured) has protruding eyes as well as its upturned lips and measures up to two foot long when fully grown

Pictured: a Burmese roofed turtle egg. The species lives only in the river systems of Myanmar and in the year 2000 was being considered as a candidate for classification as extinct

Pictured: a Burmese roofed turtle egg. The species lives only in the river systems of Myanmar and in the year 2000 was being considered as a candidate for classification as extinct

The species lives only in the river systems of Myanmar and in the year 2000 was being considered as a candidate for classification as extinct. 

However, a living specimen was purchased in a Chinese wildlife market and made its way into the possession of an American turtle collector in the early 2000s.

Soon afterwards, scientists chanced across two remnant populations of the animal in the wild while on field surveys. 

These were located in the Dokhtawady and upper Chindwin Rivers and the individuals formed a last ditch breeding programme to save the species. 

As a result, the animal is no longer threatened with oblivion and is not considered to be at risk.   

Pictured, the scene as scientists track a nest along the Chindwin River. Eggs are taken from the beach and hatched in the relative safety of a conservation facility

Pictured, the scene as scientists track a nest along the Chindwin River. Eggs are taken from the beach and hatched in the relative safety of a conservation facility 

Steven G. Platt, a herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, led the campaign to set up the breeding programme.'We came so close to losing them,' he told the New York Times.'If we didn't intervene when we did, this turtle would have just been gone'

Steven G. Platt, a herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, led the campaign to set up the breeding programme. ‘We came so close to losing them,’ he told the New York Times. ‘If we didn’t intervene when we did, this turtle would have just been gone’

Most of the animals are kept in the breeding programme in captivity but a handful have been released into the wild over the last five years. 

Steven G. Platt, a herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, led the campaign to set up the breeding programme. 

‘We came so close to losing them,’ he told the New York Times. 

‘If we didn’t intervene when we did, this turtle would have just been gone.’ 

Females of the species are larger than the males and can grow to be larger than a car steering wheel, while the males undergo a startling colour change during the breeding season. 

Normally, their heads are green, but when they are trying to breed, their heads turn more yellow with startling black markings. 

A new study has now been able to describe and photograph hatchlings of this little-known river turtle for the first time. 

‘Although historically widespread and apparently abundant, long-term population declines resulted from chronic egg collecting, subsistence harvesting of adults, and loss of critical nesting habitat,’ the researchers, including Dr Platt, write in their paper.  



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