Palawan turtles bred under human care back in the wild


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NATURAL HABITAT Critically endangered turtles Sonja and Euds, hatched and bred by Katala Foundation Inc. in Puerto Princesa City, are released into their natural habitat in the Palawan forest in the hopes that they will eventually help augment dwindling wild populations elsewhere. —PHOTO COURTESY OF KATALA FOUNDATION AND MANDAI NATURE

MANILA, Philippines — Two critically endangered Palawan forest turtles that were hatched and bred under human care have been released in the wild in the province, marking a milestone for the survival of this species thought to have long been extinct.

The historic act in efforts to save the creatures was made public this month following the results of the initial monitoring of conservation groups overseeing them.

It was the culmination of more than seven years of work by the Katala Foundation Inc. (KFI), a conservation group based in Palawan’s capital of Puerto Princesa City, with the support of the Singapore-based Mandai Nature, which is dedicated to the protection of threatened species in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

The forest turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis), named Sonja and Euds, were the first two recorded hatchlings of the endemic species under human supervision in 2018. Their parents had been cared for in the KFI’s assurance colony facilities in Palawan, an island rich in biodiversity and known as the country’s last ecological frontier.

Sonja was named after Sonja Luz, deputy chief executive officer of Mandai Nature, while Euds was named after his keeper Eudelyn.

At present, the Palawan forest turtle is listed as one of the top 25 endangered turtles in the world, and among the most illegally traded in the Philippines. Being a lowland species dependent on streams and wetlands, their wild populations are also threatened by habitat loss and land conversion.

Sonja and Euds were almost 3 years old at the time of release, “having reached a size large enough to protect them from most natural predators,” Sabine Schoppe, KFI founding director and director of the Philippine Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program, said in an interview on Sunday.

The two weighed between 370 grams and 590 grams, with body lengths of 13 centimers to 16 cm. Palawan forest turtles are known to grow to more than 30 cm.

Since the arrival of Sonja and Euds in 2018, Schoppe and her team have successfully hatched 15 more turtles under their care.

Suitable habitat

Sonja and Euds were released in a protected site found to have encompassed the right environmental conditions. KFI research showed that turtles settle in a relatively small area as long as the habitat meets their needs to survive.

Small radio transmitters were attached to each reptile to monitor and track their movements in their first three months in the wild.

Preliminary analysis of telemetry data showed that their movements were concentrated near the release site in an area covering 1,000 square meters.


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