The Magdalena River Turtle (Podocnemis lewyana) is endemic to Colombia where it is restricted to two river drainages in the country’s northwest, the Magdalena and the Sinú. This large, grayish brown aquatic turtle is the only Podocnemid turtle to naturally occur west of the Andes Mountains. Fun fact: the genus name “Podocnemis” means “foot armor”, referring to the scales along the feet of these turtles.
The Magdalena River Turtle is regarded as Critically Endangered due primarily to overhunting and loss of nesting habitat. Two community-based conservation groups on the Sinú are committed to saving this turtle. In 2013, the Turtle Survival Alliance/Wildlife Conservation Society Colombia turtle program, with our community partner Tortugas del Sinú, launched a restorative program for the turtle. This program creates and maintains artificial nesting beaches, fences beaches from cattle intrusion, protects nests, and translocates vulnerable nests for artificial incubation. It is only through these conservation efforts that the Sinú River population is able to persist.
In 2023, this Critically Endangered turtle with a dwindling wild population received an almost unparalleled boost of successful hatching in a stretch of the Sinú River from Cotoca Arriba to El Campano. We hatched and released 2,389 Magdalena River Turtles this year; that’s a big deal for this river turtle whose wild adult population there is estimated to be less than 300 individuals!
Pictured: Magdalena River Turtle (Podocnemis lewyana)
Countries of Origin: Colombia
Habitat: Turbid rivers and their tributaries of the Sinú and Magdalena river drainages
Wild Population: Unknown/Declining
IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered
Threats: Collection of adults and eggs for consumption, dam and nesting beach inundation, riverside habitat destruction
📸: Photo 1: Daniël Nelson; Photo 2: El Pato Salcedo
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