Successful turtle rescue

Demand for freshwater turtles as a source of food and medicines is decimating populations across Asia, and much of the trade there is taking place illegally. Resources to combat smuggling are limited, but sometimes, consignments are intercepted.

A large shipment of this type was confiscated in Hong Kong, and cared for temporarily at the Kadoorie Botanic Garden. Since they could not be released into the wild, some of these turtles have since been incorporated into the European Studbook Foundation’s (ESF's) assurance colonies.  

This involved ESF volunteers from across Europe, who converged early in the morning at Rotterdam Zoo. They included Paul Eversfield who left home at 2am to take part, heading to Dover to make the 4am ferry crossing and arriving at Rotterdam Zoo by mid-morning. His task was to collect and bring back a dozen animals to the UK, for Bristol Zoo and three private breeding collections.

“When I first started keeping the Malay box turtle (Cuora amboinensis) during the 1980s, it was possibly one of the commonest turtles in Asia. It had a huge natural range extending from India in the west, through Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and further east to the islands of Indonesia, including Java and Sumatra,” explains Paul. “Unfortunately, like its relatives, it does not lay large clutches, and by the time that people realised the widespread pressure on wild populations from the Asian food trade, the damage was already done.”

The good news now is that the turtles that Paul brought back are settling in well, and being acclimatised to their new surroundings. Sadly, the trauma that some of them experienced when they were taken from the wild is very evident. The keratin shields over large areas of the carapace (the top part of the shell) have been severely abraded, exposing the bony layer beneath, but the keratin covering may well regenerate over time, at least to some extent.

The future? It is hoped that the concerted efforts of those associated with the European Studbook Foundation, and the Turtle Survival Alliance (Europe) will see these turtles breeding here in Europe. The young will then form part of the assurance colony of this attractive species, safeguarding its future as far as possible.

You can see more about what happened on this video.