THE US-based organisations Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) are drafting a plan to save Myanmar’s turtle populations in cooperation with the Ministry of Forestry, said TSA chairman Mr Rick Hudson.
“We are writing a five-year action plan. When it is finished and endorsed by the Department of Forestry under the Ministry of Forestry, it will be the blueprint for turtle conservation in Myanmar,” Mr Hudson said.
TSA is a part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and has been saving turtles in Myanmar with WCS since 2006.
According to WCS, Myanmar has a total of 32 species of freshwater turtles, sea turtles and tortoises, seven of which are native to Myanmar.
“[These seven native species] are your country’s natural heritage – they make your country unique. It is very important that countries maintain what is unique to their culture and natural history,” Mr Hudson said.
“In other countries, especially India, when turtles disappear from the ecosystem, the water gets polluted. You need turtles in the ecosystem to clean up the environment. This is the ecological reason why we should save turtles,” he said.
Many turtles have been exported to China in the past 10 years, depleting the natural population, not just in Myanmar but also in other countries bordering China.
“Myanmar still has a pretty healthy turtle population in some areas. But if the China trade is allowed to continue, the population will crash,” he said.
He said 80 percent of the Chinese turtle market is from farm-raised turtles and 20pc was caught in the wild. Most of the latter are from Myanmar.
“To prevent the illegal trade of turtles to China, the action plan will include building rescue facilities in towns on the Myanmar-Chinese border,” Mr Hudson said.
The action plan will include captive breeding, rescue facilities and capacity building.
“We will build captive breeding facilities. In case the wild population becomes extinct, you will have a secure captive population. That is recommended for your star tortoise and Myanmar roofed turtle,” he said.
The star tortoise is on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered, and it was one of the top 25 most endangered turtle species listed by the Turtle Conservation Fund in 2003.
The roofed turtle is listed as an endangered species in the IUCN Red List 2008. It can be found only in the Chindwin River in Sagaing Division and Dokhtawady River in central Myanmar.
“We need a better confiscation process. We need to make sure that they are released with proper veterinary care. For capacity building, training workshops will be held,” Mr Hudson said.
TSA is now working with a range of rescue centres, captive breeding facilities and head-start operations in Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Madagascar and Mexico.