La Carranchina Natural Reserve Welcomes Newest Additions
January 10, 2023
January 9, 2023
By Igor Valencia and Jordan Gray
In November 2022, through the joint Turtle Survival Alliance/Wildlife Conservation Society Colombia project, we translocated the second group of wild Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtles (Mesoclemmys dahli) to the La Carranchina Natural Reserve in Sucre, Colombia. Eight turtles—seven females and one male—now join 16 turtles we translocated there in April 2022 (read this story in the 2022 edition of our annual magazine, Turtle Survival, by becoming a TSA member). This addition significantly increases the genetic diversity of Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtles at the reserve and furthers our goal of creating a self-sustaining protected population of this Critically Endangered endemic Colombian turtle.
This female Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle is one of the newest additions to the La Carranchina Natural Reserve. Photo: Igor Valencia
Seasoned Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle detectors Igor Valencia of Wildlife Conservation Society Colombia and contracted community members Nilson Caraballo and Jair Bonilla, sought out wild specimens to translocate to the Reserve from an isolated site in Cordoba Department. Previous surveys and genetic evaluations we conducted at this and other sites in the country demonstrate that the turtles have undergone a severe population bottleneck because of isolation and inbreeding. This is due to the destruction of the turtle’s tropical dry forest habitat—one of the most imperiled biomes in Colombia—for agriculture, primarily livestock pastureland. Less than 9% of the country’s tropical dry forest now remains. These types of bottlenecks put populations of Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtles at significant risk of low long-term survival. Thus, it’s imperative for the species’ survival that we bring together turtles of high genetic value for reproduction in a protected area.
Jair Bonilla shows one of the most recent Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle additions to the La Carranchina Natural Reserve. Photo: Igor Valencia
Following the capture of the eight turtles, team members transferred them into safe transport containers and drove them four hours to the La Carranchina Natural Reserve. The Reserve is a 297-acre (120-ha) property purchased by Turtle Survival Alliance, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Rainforest Trust in 2019. The historic acquisition established the first reserve dedicated to the preservation of a turtle species in Colombia. The Reserve features a natural stream, wetlands, ponds, lush riparian vegetation, and, now, a recovering tropical dry forest due to our intensive restoration efforts of the surrounding degraded landscape.
Once at the Reserve, the team marked the edges of the turtles’ shells with a unique code, took their measurements, collected blood samples for genetic analysis, and affixed to the top of each individual’s shell a radio transmitter. The turtles were then released into the reserve to co-mingle with other resident turtles.
Following the Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtles’ release into La Carranchina Natural Reserve, Donny Manchego and Yeiner Vega both track them and offer to them supplemental food. Video: Igor Valencia
The translocated turtles have been tracked since their release by Reserve ranger Donny Manchego and Yeiner Vega. By doing so we can monitor the turtles’ acceptance of the Reserve as their new home, follow their movements, and perform periodic health checks to ensure the turtles maintain healthy weights, as well as assess their overall well-being. In a few months we will celebrate a full year of residence for the first group of translocated Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtles and, with luck, find that they are beginning to reproduce, offering for this unique, native Colombian a chance at survival.
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