by Heather Lowe
The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) recently awarded the TSA a $24,800 grant to support a reintroduction program for Burmese star tortoises (Geochelone platynota) in Myanmar. This project is the first step in a larger project with the ultimate goal of reintroducing and establishing a breeding population of star tortoises at a wildlife sanctuary. The general objectives are to inform local communities of our reintroduction plans, reinforce local religious beliefs that confer protection to tortoises, and enlist the support of local communities. Funds are also available for building pre-release enclosures to hold the tortoises for up to a year prior to their “soft release”, a technique that we believe will encourage the tortoises to remain near the release site (site fidelity) in the protected sanctuary.
The Burmese star tortoise is endemic to central Myanmar and ranked Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Historically, G. platynota occurred throughout the dry zone of central Myanmar, but populations have declined since the late 1990s owing to chronic subsistence harvesting, unregulated commercial harvesting, and habitat destruction. It is now thought to be “ecologically extinct” in most areas.
The Burmese star tortoise reintroduction is a collaborative effort between the TSA and their partner organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The project will be coordinated through WCS’s Myanmar Program office in Yangon, where the TSA Myanmar program is based, and will be directed by Steve (WCS) and Kalyar Platt (TSA). To date the TSA and WCS have raised $43,500 in support of this reintroduction including funding from DWCF, WCS and the Turtle Conservation Fund. The TSA has invested heavily in expanding the star tortoise breeding program in Myanmar, having built three new facilities since 2007. Breeding success has increased dramatically at these centers and captive raised tortoises are now available to repopulate areas of former abundance. In future years we anticipate the possible repatriation of captive bred tortoises from the U.S. with the Turtle Conservancy as a partner.