Kalyar Platt, TSA’s new Turtle Conservation Coordinator in Myanmar has hit the ground running since starting in her position last month. Charged with overseeing the continued construction of multiple turtle facilities, she conducted site visits last week to evaluate the progress and make recommendations.
The first was at the Lawkananda Wildlife Sanctuary, the most successful government-operated star tortoise breeding facility in Myanmar. Due to its success, the sanctuary has been overcrowded and the new construction here will help to alleviate this problem. The existing facility is being vastly expanded – basically doubling the size – to accommodate their burgeoning population of Burmese star tortoises (Geochelone platynota), a critically endangered endemic species. This will provide improved husbandry for juveniles and hatchlings as well as better nesting conditions. In addition the new facility offers better security to guard against theft.
A new adjacent facility for Asian mountain tortoises (Manouria emys phayrei) was also built that will help distribute the large group of 65 that is currently being held at the Mandalay Zoo. And a second facility for Burmese roof turtles (Batagur trivittata) is now ready at Lawkananda; an existing pond was fenced for security and to prevent escapes, and sand nesting banks installed along with a floating basking platform. This species was previously believed to be extinct until its rediscovery in 2002. Since that time, the captive assurance colony at the Yadanabon Zoo has grown to over 400 individuals, representing a remarkable conservation success story. The new pond at Lawkananda will help to alleviate the overcrowding at this program as well as spreading out the gene pool to avoid the risk of catastrophic loss at one facility (the all eggs in one basket scenario).
On her trip, Kalyar also visited the Yadanabon Zoo in Mandalay, where the TSA is sponsoring the expansion of facilities for the Asian mountain tortoise. A group of over 70 was rescued back in 2007 and living in temporary quarters since then. The new facility basically triples the amount of space, and provides permanent ponds for soaking and cooling.
The TSA also build additional grow-out ponds for endemic softshells (Nilssonia) and B. trivittata. Modifications are also being made to a large pond for B. trivittata sub-adults that will allow for the raising of water hyacinth (separate from the turtles, who love to eat it!) as both a food source and a biofilter, keeping water quality high. This spacious pond will also serve as a pre-release facility to allow turtles to adapt to more natural conditions before being returned to the wild.