by Heather Lowe
From January 2009 to September 2010, TSA teams worked in Myanmar to develop concepts and designs for new breeding facilities for key chelonian program species. Building plans and budgets for new turtle and tortoise facilities were finalized in September 2010 and construction got underway shortly thereafter. Members of the TSA Board of Directors visited Lawkananda Park in Bagan, Myanmar to inspect one of the newest facilities in February.
Lawkananda is the largest and most successful of the four government-operated star tortoise breeding facilities in Myanmar. The existing facility is being vastly expanded – basically doubling the size – to accommodate their burgeoning population of Burmese star tortoises (Geochelone platynota), a critically endangered endemic species. Due to its success, the sanctuary has been overcrowded and the new construction here will help to alleviate this problem.
The new facility was literally built around an original building, which will now house only juvenile tortoises. The six walled sections will let the adult tortoises roam and graze freely, yet will allow for them to be separated into breeding groups thus assuring the greatest genetic diversity. It has been found that if tortoises are kept in one large herd, a single male will dominate the group and be the only one to mate. At the time of the visit, 20 clutches of eggs had already been laid, with an expectation of over 250 hatchlings emerging from those nests in June.
In addition to adding more space, the new facility offers better security to guard against theft. Over 500 Burmese star tortoises are managed here, 237 of them hatched in the last four years – 113 in 2010! Security is serious issue with star tortoises which sell for a lot of money, so measures must be made to prevent theft. Previously, the tortoises were moved into a locked box at night with someone sleeping on top for security.
A new facility for Asian mountain tortoises (Manouria emys phayrei) was also built adjacent to the star tortoise unit that features two large pools and shade retreats, and should accommodate ten adult tortoises. This will help distribute the large group of 65 tortoises that is currently being held at the Mandalay Zoo and create the third assurance colony for this highly threatened species in Myanmar.
A second facility for Burmese roof turtles (Batagur trivittata) is also now completed. In spring 2011, 50 sub-adult turtles that were hatched in 2007-08 will be moved here to relieve crowding at the Yadanabon Zoo. This facility effectively allows us to divide the captive gene pool of this critically endangered species, thus eliminating the “all eggs in one basket” scenario and avoid the risk of catastrophic loss at one facility – Yadanabon Zoo. This species was previously believed to be extinct until its rediscovery in 2002. Since that time, the captive assurance colony there has grown to over 400 individuals, representing a remarkable conservation success story. The new pond at Lawkananda will help to alleviate overcrowding at this program.