by Howard Goldstein
The futures of the Big-Headed Turtles confiscated in Myanmar last month are rapidly improving, thanks to the combined rescue efforts of Turtle Survival Alliance, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore. On 7 November 2016, TSA first announced that the Myanmar authorities had confiscated 800 Big-Headed Turtles from the illegal wildlife trade, and the animals were soon moved to TSA’s Turtle Rescue Center (TRC) in May Myo.
The rescued turtles, many of which had been held in poor conditions by their captors for seven or eight months, were weak and ill, and the prognosis seemed grim. The incredible dedication of the rescue staff has paid great dividends, however, as many formerly sick turtles are once again healthy, active, and eating.
Clinton Doak of TSA’s Turtle Survival Center (TSC) has recently joined the triage team, which also includes TSC’s Veterinary Care Manager Sheena Koeth and TSA Director of Animal Management Cris Hagen. Also on the ground is Dr. Bonnie Raphael (WCS senior veterinarian, retired), a lifelong turtle conservationist and expert.
One of the largest obstacles in caring for these animals was the initial lack of specific facilities for this species. Big-Headed Turtles are solitary and highly aggressive, and unlike many turtle species, maintaining them in groups is usually disastrous. Initially, many of the “Big-Heads” were housed in three large ponds built for softshell turtles, with water hyacinth and numerous retreats added to accommodate the species’ need for solitude. Now, the TRC has acquired large aquaculture tubs that allow all of the individual turtles to be kept singly.
This newest development bodes well for the survivorship of all the remaining Big-Heads, and their characteristic feisty attitudes and voracious appetites have largely returned.
“Most looked grave whenI arrived on the ground,” said Koeth. “It’s been no small amount of work, but these guys are now bright eyed, strong, sassy, and eating!”
TSA is grateful for all of the outpouring of support for this project and is hopeful for the future of these turtles. Stay tuned!