Asian Giant Tortoises Return to the Chattogram Hill Tracts of Bangladesh

For Immediate Release

CONTACT:     

JORDAN GRAY, Turtle Survival Alliance, (912) 659-0978, jgray@turtlesurvival.org

• Ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises released into community-managed forest in Chattogram Hill Tracts, Bangladesh.
• Release represents first-ever rewilding of a Critically Endangered tortoise species in the country.
• Post-release animal movement and survival monitoring will be performed by reformed hunters from indigenous communities trained as parabiologists (field technicians).
• Release will serve as a model for reintroducing other species of turtle and tortoise to community-managed forests in Bangladesh.

CHARLESTON, SC — Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD), and Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) today announced the rewilding of ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises (Manouria emys phayrei) to the Chattogram Hill Tracts of southeastern Bangladesh. This first-ever rewilding of the species in Bangladesh was spearheaded by TSA partners Bangladesh Forest Department and Creative Conservation Alliance, with support from Bandarban Hill District Council and the local communities.

“This release epitomizes why we created the Turtle Conservation Center and why we work diligently to create meaningful and lasting relationships with indigenous communities of the Chattogram Hill Tracts,” said Shahriar ‘Caesar’ Rahman of Creative Conservation Alliance and Turtle Survival Alliance. “It exemplifies the value of public-private collaborations, and illustrates the use of conservation breeding as a tool to restore populations of native animals in the wild.”

Ten juvenile, captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises are affixed with radio transmitters at the Bangladesh Forest Department/ Turtle Survival Alliance / Creative Conservation Alliance’s Turtle Conservation Center in Bhawal National Park prior to their release. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

Saturday, members of the Bangladesh Forest Department, Creative Conservation Alliance, and a Hill Tract community released ten juvenile Asian Giant Tortoises into a 200-hectare (494 ac) community-managed forest located in the Matamuhuri Reserve Forest, Bandarban Hill District. These ten tortoises, all two and a half years old, represent the first attempt to rewild this Critically Endangered species in Bangladesh. The tortoises hatched in 2019 at the BFD/TSA/CCA’s Tortoise Conservation Center in Bhawal National Park and are offspring of parents seized from or surrendered by individuals who poached them from the wild for food.

“This is a really BIG first step toward realizing TSA’s goal of returning Asian Giant Tortoises to the landscape,” said Rick Hudson, President of Turtle Survival Alliance. “With conservation breeding programs in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, this effort is the embodiment of TSA’s strategy of building assurance colonies from doomed animals seized from the wildlife trade with the goal of restoring wild populations.”

The village Chief of the recipient community releases the first-ever rewilded Asian Giant Tortoise in Bangladesh. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

The historic release was attended by a representative of the Chief Conservator of Forests of the Bangladesh Forest Department as well as a member of the Bandarban Hill District Council, representing Kyaw Shwe Hla, Chairman of Bandarban Hill District Council.

To prepare the tortoises for release, health assessments and disease screenings were conducted in collaboration with Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI), Savar. Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) was conducted and permission was obtained by the village chief to release the tortoises in the area. To ensure the protection of these tortoises and its habitat, a Village Conservation Committee (VCC) was formed in the village. This five-member committee, under the supervision of the village chief, will act as the local governance system to protect the tortoises and their habitat in select demarcated areas.

Villagers of the recipient community-managed forest and Creative Conservation Alliance staff commemorate the historic moment before releasing the tortoises. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

Post-release animal movement and survival monitoring will be performed by reformed hunters trained as parabiologists (field technicians) from local communities of Matamuhuri Reserve Forest and under the supervision of Shahriar Rahman (CCA/TSA). Each tortoise is fitted with a transmitter and will be monitored by the parabiologists using radio telemetry equipment. Data from this effort will guide conservation and repatriation measures for future rewilding efforts and will help validate the efficacy of conservation breeding and release as a tool in restoring populations of native turtles and tortoises.

The Asian Giant Tortoise is the largest tortoise in Asia, growing up to 61 cm (24 in) in shell length and weighing up to 35 kg (77 lbs.). It is considered to be of one of the oldest tortoise lineages in the world. Native to tropical and subtropical hill forests of Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore (extirpated) and Thailand, the Asian Giant Tortoise is considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Subsistence and commercial hunting and destruction of primary forest habitat are its principal conservation threats. The tortoise plays an important role in maintaining ecosystem health through seed dispersal. In Bangladesh, the Asian Giant Tortoise was once found throughout the Chattogram Hill Tracts but has disappeared from most parts of its native range. Today, they are considered to be functionally extinct in the Chattogram Hill Tracts.

The release of the ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises was a historic moment for the Chattogram Hill Tracts, the recipient community, the collaborative conservation organizations, and Bangladesh. Photo: Kowshikur Rahman/CCA

In 2017, the Turtle Conservation Center (TCC) was established in Bhawal National Park, Gazipur District, as a collaborative breeding facility of the Bangladesh Forest Department, Creative Conservation Alliance, and Turtle Survival Alliance. The TCC was established to increase numbers of threatened native tortoises and turtles through captive breeding, with a goal of reintroducing them to the wild. Ten adult Asian Giant Tortoises were rescued from slaughter and transferred to the Center in 2017. In 2019, 46 tortoise offspring were produced in captivity for the first time in Bangladesh. The TCC is the only facility in Bangladesh dedicated to the conservation breeding of tortoises at risk of extinction.

The Asian Giant Tortoise conservation breeding program at the TCC is part of a larger tri-national strategy by TSA and our partners to restore wild populations of the species in Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. Over the years, all three country programs figured out the nuances of breeding this species in captivity, but Bangladesh is the first to reintroduce tortoises to the wild.

###

About Turtle Survival Alliance

With a vision of zero turtle extinctions in the 21st century and a mission to transform passion for turtles into effective conservation action, the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) was formed in 2001 in response to rampant and unsustainable collection of Asian turtles supplying Chinese markets. Since its inception the TSA, a with 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has become recognized as a global force for turtle conservation, capable of taking swift and decisive action on behalf of critically endangered turtles and tortoises. TSA employs a three-pronged approach to turtle conservation: 1) restoring populations in the wild where possible; 2) securing species in captivity through assurance colonies; and 3) building capacity to restore, secure and conserve species within their range countries. In addition to the Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina, TSA manages collaborative turtle conservation programs in 15 diversity hotspots around the world. For more information, visit: www.turtlesurvival.org; http://www.facebook.com/turtlesurvival; www.instagram.com/turtlesurvival; @turtlesurvival on Twitter.

About Bangladesh Forest Department

Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) is a government agency under Minstry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, responsible for the protection and jurisdiction of forests and wildlife in Bangladesh.

About Creative Conservation Alliance

Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) is a government registered non-profit conservation organization dedicated to ecological and cultural conservation of last wild places in Bangladesh.

About Bandarban Hill District Council

Bandarban Hill District Council (BHDC) is a regional government body responsible for the administration of Bandarban District, Chattogram Division, Bangladesh.

1 Comment

  1. […] endangered Asian Giant Tortoises (Manouria emys phayrei) to the Chattogram Hill Tracts a reality. In December 2021, ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises were released into a community-managed fore…, representing the first rewilding of a Critically Endangered tortoise species in the country. Fahim […]

Leave a Comment