A species that has greatly benefited from conservation efforts is the Big-headed Turtle (Platysternon megacephalum). Native to the hills and mountains of eastern and southern Myanmar, the Big-headed Turtle is subject to increasing demand from wildlife markets in southern China. Indeed, it appears that most of the illegally collected turtles are destined for alleged “turtle farms” operated by unscrupulous Chinamen who use these operations to launder wild-caught turtles, passing them off as “captive-bred” offspring to unsuspecting buyers. This illegal harvest has resulted in dramatic declines of Big-headed Turtles throughout their range in Myanmar.
Two very large confiscations of Big-headed Turtles being transshipped to China have occurred in the past two years. The first confiscation occurred in 2016 when almost 1000 Big-headed Turtles were discovered in the compound of a clandestine wildlife trafficker. Most of the turtles were near-death when found, the result of criminal neglect – all too typical among wildlife traffickers who generally provide only minimal care for their charges – and it was only through the heroic efforts of a combined Myanmar and international team of wildlife veterinarians and turtle husbandry men that any of the turtles were saved. In 2017 a second confiscation of Big-headed Turtles took place and this time quick action saved almost every turtle from a grizzly death. The surviving turtles from both confiscations are now being housed in temporary quarters at the Turtle Rescue Center at Bambwe. Because the Big-headed Turtles have exacting requirements in captivity, plans are underway to construct a facility specifically tailored to meet the demands of difficult to keep species. Even more exciting, funding has been secured to conduct an experimental reintroduction of Big-headed Turtles in a fast-flowing stream near Bambwe. The results of this trial-release will then be used to plan an ambitious reintroduction program with the objective of reestablishing wild populations within the national protected area system.
Dr. Kalyar Platt, TSA