Madagascar Big-headed Turtle

Erymnochelys madagascariensis

Summary 5

The Madagascan big-headed turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis) is a turtle native to the waters of permanent slow moving rivers and lakes in western Madagascar. These turtles, although they are critically endangered (the 13th most endangered turtle, according to the top 25 most endangered turtles list, issued May 2003), they are commonly eaten for food but they are still commonly shipped from Madagascar to Asia to help meet the demand of Asia's traditional medicine market. A captive breeding program has also been started to prevent the species from becoming extinct.

Diagnosis 6

Tortoises and turtles are among the oldest of all living reptiles having appeared about 250 million years ago. They have evolved little since then and their ancient appearance and unique biology fascinates biologists [1]. The Madagascar big-headed turtle is, however, one of the most endangered turtles in the world, and is included on the Turtle Conservation Fund's (TCF) top 25 endangered turtles list [2]. This species has a hard, dark-brown coloured shell enclosing the soft parts of the body and, as its name suggests, a distinctively large head. Juvenile turtles have a delicate pattern of fine black lines on the shell, but these disappear with age. Its other common name, the Madagascar side-necked turtle also reveals a feature shared by other species in the Pleurodira sub-order: when the head is withdrawn into the shell, the neck bends sideways rather than straight back as in other turtles and tortoises [3]. The neck is also long, and allows the turtle to draw breath at the surface of the water without exposing the rest of the body to potential predators [4].

Conservation 7

Conservation Actions

Erymnochelys has been listed in CITES Appendix II since 1978 (UNEP-WCMC 2007) and is fully protected by Malagasy Law (Kuchling 1993a, 1997; Kuchling and Mittermeier1993). Most major populations of Erymnochelys madagascariensis occur outside protected areas. Most of the small populations inside protected areas (PN Ankarafantsika 65,520 ha, PN Baie de Baly, RNI Bemaraha 152,000 ha) are also under exploitation pressure and declining or depleted or locally extirpated (CBSG 2001).

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Conservation International have been working collaboratively on a conservation strategy for this species since 1997/98. This includes population field studies, captive breeding, and community education (Garcia 1999, 2006; Kuchling 2000; Kuchling and Garcia 2003).

Kuchling (1997) suggested three conservation actions: an education campaign for fishermen, a captive breeding programme, and the establishment of additional protected areas. Recommendations from the 2001 CAMP workshop suggest additional measures which include enforcing protection for the species in protected areas and recovery management of depleted protected populations, establishment of monitoring and recovery strategies for the populations at Manambolomaty (a Ramsar site with the largest and most important Erymnochelys poulation), and public education range-wide (CBSG 2001).[5]

Sources and Credits 8

  1. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley Limited, London.
  2. Turtle Conservation Fund (February, 2008)
  3. The Zoology Museum (November, 2003)
  4. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopaedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA)

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) Cédric de Foucault, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA), uploaded by Cédric de Foucault
  2. (c) Bernard DUPONT, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),
  3. (c) Josh More, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-ND),
  4. (c) Bernard DUPONT, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),
  5. Adapted by calebcam from a work by (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA),
  6. Adapted by calebcam from a work by (c) Wildscreen, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  7. Adapted by calebcam from a work by (c) International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA),
  8. (c) calebcam, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA)

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