by Rick Hudson
Rick Hudson, Lonnie McCaskill and Kalyar Platt recently returned from a successful trip to Myanmar where they finalized construction plans and budgets with local architects. All total, over $60,000 will be spent over the next three months on new turtle and tortoise facilities at Lawkananda Wildlife Sanctuary in Bagan and the Yadanabon Zoo in Mandalay. The facilities will benefit a number of critically endangered endemic species whose recovery relies on captive breeding and management programs. The funds also provide support for new species initiatives (Asian mountain tortoise, Manouria e. phayrei, and both endemic softshells, Nilssonia formosa and Chitra vandijki) while expanding existing programs for Burmese star tortoises and roofed turtles. This program is managed in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Myanmar Forestry Department.
Lawkananda: Over 500 Burmese star tortoises are managed here, 237 of them hatched in the last four years – 113 in 2010! This is the largest and most successful of the four government-run facilities and the husbandry is exceptional with perfect shell growth. Lawkananda receives the government’s annual allotment of tortoises – 20% of all hatched – from the nearby Griffon Enterprises, a Japanese operated commercial facility. Space is desperately needed and the planned expansion will address several critical needs including security and quarantine space
The expansion will add over 7500 sq ft of new space to the existing star tortoise facility that will include a 60 ft x 60 ft juvenile rearing unit, multiple breeding enclosures for managing adults, a high security perimeter fence with guard tower, and a 2400 sq ft of space for Manouria e. phayrei.
We will also be fencing a nearly 2 acre pond to contain Burmese roof turtles, Batagur trivittata; upon completion 50 sub-adult turtles will be moved here to relieve crowding at the Yadanabon Zoo. Other improvements include an anchored basking platform and two nesting areas.
Yadanabon Zoo, Mandalay: We will be tripling the existing space – to 4500 sq ft – for the large group of 63 Manouria e. phayrei by adding four new enclosures, each with large concrete pools and shade structures. This expansion will allow for more effective management and improved nesting conditions. This group was confiscated in 2007 and will be distributed to various facilities in Myanmar to create new assurance colonies. The first hatchlings from this group were produced in 2010.
For the zoo’s large group of Batagur trivittata – now at 406 turtles – space has become a serious issue for this rapidly growing species. We have been moving sub-adult turtles to other ponds for grow-out but additional space for rearing juveniles is urgently needed. We will be building 3 new ponds – 2 are 18 x 6 ft ovals, 1 is 10 x 12 ft – all with varying depths to 3 ft. A set of 4 plastic tanks (4 x 4 x 2 ft deep) mounted on wood racks will allow hatchlings to now be raised outside with natural sunlight.
We will also build a new facility for endemic softshells with 4 10 x 20 ft oval ponds with shallow basking areas dropping to 3 ft deep. A group wild-hatched juvenile Burmese peacock softshell turtles, Nilssonia formosa, will be the first residents here to be followed by Burmese narrow-headed softshell, Chitra vandijki, in the near future (we hope).
The TSA will also soon be building a new facility in the Rakhine State (western Myanmar) for the endemic Arakan forest turtle, Heosemys depressa. Eleven specimens (4.7) – all from trade confiscation – are now at the Yadanabon Zoo and will be moved to the Rakhine once the facility is complete. Space for Manouria e. phayrei is also included in this plan. This project will be a partnership with two local NGOs – Friends of Wildlife and Indo Myanmar Conservation.
For their generous support and financial support for construction of new chelonian facilities in Myanmar, we are grateful to the following organizations: British Chelonia Group, Detroit Zoological Society, HATZH Donation Fund, Los Angeles Zoo, Nature’s Own, Taipei Forest Bureau, Toronto Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo and Pat Koval / WWF Canada.