Batagur affinis
Southern River Terrapin

    • Habitat:
      Brackish estuaries, mangrove creeks, tidal river reaches, coastal lagoons, and inland freshwater rivers
    • Threats:
      - Habitat destruction, alteration, and conversion
      - Collection of adults and eggs for consumption
      - Incidental capture in fishing gear
      - Sand mining and hydropower dams
    • Conservation Efforts:
      - Captive breeding and assurance colonies
      - Hatchling and head start release
      - Population surveys and monitoring
      - Community outreach programs
      - Protected in Cambodia and Thailand
      - CITES Appendix II
    • Wild Population:
      Estimated population reduction greater than 90%
      Extirpated or likely extirpated from Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam
      Populations highly fragmented
    • Endangered Status:
      Critically Endangered

Fast Facts

The Southern River Terrapin is divided into two subspecies: Western Malay River Terrapin (Batagur affinis affinis) and Eastern Malay River Terrapin (Batagur affinis edwardmolli).

This species is colloquially called “tuntung” in Malaysia and “tuntong” in Indonesia. The names derive from the reverberating sound made by the turtle’s plastron as the female packs its nest with sand following egg laying. “The turtles’ tamping action sounds like drums playing primeval staccato rhythms.” –  Mittermeier et al.

The Southern River Terrapin, known commonly in Cambodia as the “Royal Turtle,” was declared the National Reptile of Cambodia by decree in 2005.

The common name of “Royal Turtle” in Cambodia derives from the account that this species’ eggs are considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, nesting areas were protected from general exploitation and egg collection and consumption was reserved for royalty.

This species exhibits marked sexual dimorphism (morphological differences between males and females) in the form of sexual dichromatism (color differences between males and females). While females remain in a muted state of coloration throughout the year, the pigment melanin is hyper-expressed in males during the breeding season, giving them an overall dark grey to black appearance. The melanin expression is especially pronounced on the head and neck region; starkly contrasted by golden-yellow eyes.

Species Snapshot