Blog | Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)
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Description The Turtle Survival Alliance is a global partnership of individuals, zoos, aquariums, biologists and researchers who have joined together to help conserve threatened and endangered tortoise and turtle species.
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Painted Terrapins found in North Sumatra
Category Blog
Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 18:59:58 +0000

Our partner Joko Guntoro of the Satucita Foundation reports that in the past two months, two female critically endangered Painted Terrapins (Batagur borneoensis) have been found in the province of North Sumatra, Indonesia. These two specimens are the first Painted Terrapins to be identified by the Satucita Foundation in the province.

On 13 December 2017, a female Painted Terrapin was incidentally captured by fishermen in the Langkat Regency of North Sumatra. The turtle was reported to the Department of Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation of the Ministry of Forestry (BKSDA) Section II - Langkat. The day following its capture, the staff of the Satucita Foundation and BKSDA – Langkat collected morphometric data on the turtle, inserted a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag, and released the turtle back into the estuary.

Langkat Lead Photo   Langkat 1

Left: The first documented Painted Terrapin in North Sumatra. Right: Ahmaddin (BKSDA - Langkat), Yusriono (Satucita Foundation), and Anto (Secretary of Community Group) release the female Painted Terrapin into the estuary.

Following the finding, the Satucita Foundation, in collaboration with the BKSDA – Langkat, and a community villager, performed nesting surveys in the Langkat Regency through 28 January 2018. Through these surveys, they identified 5 nests of Painted Terrapin; however, none of the nests contained viable eggs for protection. Two of the nests appeared to have been depredated by predators, while the other three appeared to have been harvested by local fishermen.

On 29 January 2018, less than two months later, and fittingly the day following the final nesting survey in the Langkat Regency, a second adult female Painted Terrapin was identified in North Sumatra. Like the previous female, the critically endangered turtle was incidentally caught by fishermen in Langkat. Her capture was immediately reported to the BKSDA Section II - Langkat and the Satucita Foundation. The presence of this female is exceptional news, considering that she is only the second physical specimen of her kind recorded from the province.

After receiving the information regarding the ensnared turtle, the Satucita Foundation's chairman Yusriono, and staff members of the BKSDA made the four-hour trek by minibus, motorbike, and boat back to the village where she was being held. The turtle was found to have been incidentally snagged on the leg by a fishing hook. After giving her a health examination, recording morphometric measurements, and inserting a PIT tag beneath her skin for future monitoring, she too was released back into the estuary.

Langkat II 1    Langkat II 2

Left: The second documented Painted Terrapin in North Sumatra. Right: Yusriono (Satucita Foundation) releases the female Painted Terrapin back into the estuary.

Meanwhile in the Aceh province, Joko and his team, in collaboration with the BKSDA – Langsa, and two community villagers, continue their nesting patrols on the beaches of the Aceh Tamiang Regency. The patrols in the Aceh Tamiang Regency, where the Satucita Foundation's primary efforts for Painted Terrapins are focused, have thus far resulted in the finding, excavation, and relocation of 423 eggs from 27 nests this season. On an interesting note, the team also successfully secured one Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) nest contains 119 eggs on 7 February while patrolling for Painted Terrapins. Both species will utilize the same estuarine nesting beaches. With nesting patrols continuing until early March, stay tuned for more exciting news from Sumatra!

Faces of the TSA Vol. 14
Category Blog
Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 18:30:32 +0000

Jay Allen

Who: Jay Allen

What: Owner, Aquarium Innovations

Where: Monroe, Georgia, USA

Jordan Gray: What is your earliest childhood memory with a turtle or tortoise?

Jay Allen: Because my father served in the U.S. Military, my family traveled a great deal. This exposed me to a variety of animals at an early age. I first became interested in reptiles when we lived in Panama, Central America. Spending time in the rainforests there offered a great opportunity to grow and learn. While there weren't many turtles, the reptile interest stuck.

Our next family relocation took me from the rainforest to the reef when we moved to Miami Beach, Florida. This is where I had my first turtle sighting. Snorkeling was a daily event with my two older brothers, and it provided my first encounter with a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta). He was small and young; probably 3 to 5 years old. I enjoyed watching it cruise along to forage on corals and anything else that came along. It was a very cool encounter for me as an 11-year-old.

JG: How did you first become involved in turtle and tortoise conservation?

JA: After 30 years of working together on various exhibits, Greg George asked David Manser and I to come "hang out" with some turtle guys one day. TSA was in its third year of operation at the time, and off I went, unknowingly, to my first conference. Greg had planted a seed in both David and I, and it worked!

I really got involved with chelonian conservation efforts right before the grounds for the Turtle Survival Center (TSC) were purchased. At the time, I was working at a National Fish Hatchery in the area, and Rick Hudson invited me to go by and check the place out. It was perfect for what was needed. As Rick stated, "There's a couple hundred thousand dollars' worth of stuff here - this is a big WIN."

I enjoy going to the TSC, and worked on the very first cleaning up of and infrastructure installation for the grounds there. Installing the plumbing system for the Forest Complex was totally brutal as it had rained so much that year. I have to give a shout out to Luke Wyrich and Theresa Stratmann. The three of us dug ditches, calf-deep in some good South Carolina mud, for the PVC plumbing installation. I have been plumbing for 30 + years and this was a very difficult, but extremely rewarding endeavor. Additionally, I have enjoyed working at the TSC with Nathan Haislip; we have gotten many things accomplished together for the center including, grinding and staining the conference room, pouring the floor for the quarantine building, and much more. For me, the TSA/TSC is a great way to give back; we need more of that in this day and age.

JG: What is your favorite species of turtle or tortoise to work with?

JA: Batagur affinis, the Southern River Terrapin. This is Cambodia's national reptile, and one of the most endangered freshwater turtles in the world. Brian Horne introduced me to this species in 2014 when he took me to several spots in Southeast Asia while scouting potential sites for a new conservation center (now the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center). We traveled to southern Cambodia, the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) in northern Cambodia, the Singapore Zoo, and Cuc Phuong, Vietnam. Once I personally saw this species' need for help, I was hooked on saving this turtle. Plus, the males have beautiful golden eyes that you can't help but love.

JG: Do you keep any turtles and tortoises, and if so, what type?

JA: I currently have a few Musk (Sternotherus) and Common Map Turtles (Graptemys geographica) at my home. My collection has gotten smaller over the years as I've given most away to educational facilities including public aquariums. Scaling back on my home facility has allowed me to spend more time in the field. Whenever I need more time with turtles, I head over to the TSC and ask Nathan what needs to be done!

JG: What is your favorite aspect of building aquariums and terrariums?

JA: I have always enjoyed the hands on aspect of the job, but my favorite is making the molds we use for exhibit props and rock work. I also enjoy learning about the habitat of the specific exhibit we are modeling for, especially when we're in the field collecting props and taking photos.

The long-term educational value of my exhibits - knowing that these exhibits will be there (some after I'm gone) to teach future generations why we need to protect our animals and their habitats - is what makes me the proudest. My quote that embodies this is, "Start them young and they will come back to you."

JG: Tell us about how you got involved with turtle conservation in Cambodia?

JA: I fully blame that great gift on Dr. Brian Horne. He was giving a lecture on the Batagur genus at a conference and explaining the immediate need to save these special turtles. I literally knew nothing, but Brian and Dwight Lawson explained the crisis to me, told me how the TSA and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) were involved in efforts for their survival, and I was in. I have now been to many parts of the Upper Mekong River in Cambodia, and I've also worked several times at the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity. My conservation work in Cambodia is also special for me because both of my daughters have traveled there with me to get involved. Margaux, my youngest, and I both love helping at the ACCB, and Shelby, my oldest, came with me on my first trip to the old WCS Batagur facility to fit the first satellite transmitters on the turtles. I am looking forward to my fourth year of traveling there and to the new Batagur facility in Koh Kong.

JG: What attracted you to become part of the Turtle Survival Alliance?

JA: After building exhibits for years, it was just a perfect way to give back and save the most endangered turtles in the world. Everything I have learned through the many conferences attended has been a helpful addition to my career. In all of my experiences with non-profits over the years, the TSA has been the most rewarding.

JG: What advice would you give to an aspiring chelonian conservationist?

JA: "Start them young and they will come back to you." Education is the key component of conservation. Without educating the people, the turtles don't stand a chance. We can never give up on the animals or the cause.

Species Spotlight Vol. 14
Category Blog
Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 18:18:01 +0000

Male Royal Turtle TSA-WCS Logo

Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis)

Countries of Origin: Cambodia, Indonesia (Sumatra, likely extirpated), Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore (reintroduced), Thailand (likely extirpated), and Vietnam (extirpated)

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated surviving population: < 500 adults. Only two actively-protected nesting areas of value remain in the wild.

Habitat: Large rivers, mangrove-bordered creeks, and coastal lagoons and estuaries.

Biology and Habits: The Southern River Terrapin is an herbivorous species, feeding on aquatic vegetation, low overhanging riparian vegetation, and fruits. Females nest on sand bars and sandy beaches, sometimes traveling up to 80 km (50 mi) between their foraging grounds and nesting site. They may lay up to three clutches per year containing between 5 – 38 eggs per clutch.

Size: Males ≤ 49 cm (19 in), Females ≤ 60 cm (24 in)


  • The Southern River Terrapin is divided into two subspecies: Batagur affinis affinis and 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 as "Royal Turtle," was declared the National Reptile of Cambodia by decree in 2005.
  • The common name of "Royal Turtle" 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.
  • In parts of this species' range, the adult turtles are protected from consumption as "haram" by Islamic law, the predominate religion of Malaysia. This haram however does not protect the eggs of the species, and over collection of the eggs has resulted in a massive reduction in the recruitment of new turtles into the population. Furthermore, as non-Muslims began populating the region in larger numbers after World War II, the "haram" no longer gave the species the widespread protection it once had in those areas.
  • The aftermath of wars and regime changes have had a significant impact on this species. During World War II, the Southern River Terrapin was heavily harvested to feed the Japanese soldiers occupying the region. Additionally, untold numbers of this species were collected for market following the fall of the Khmer Rouge communist regime in Cambodia.

Greatest Threats: Valued for its meat and eggs, the Southern River Terrapin has been overexploited throughout its range. Additionally, habitat destruction and alteration, sand mining, incidental drowning in fish nets, and the building of hydroelectric dams have significantly compounded the anthropogenic threat to this turtle. Of these, sand mining is the largest current threat, greatly impacting the availability and integrity of nesting areas. This species has seen a population reduction of greater than 90% in its historical numbers in just the last 75 years. With less than 1% of its historical numbers remaining in the wild, this species is at high-risk for functional and ecological extinction.

How you can help: The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Royal Government of Cambodia's Fisheries Administration (FiA), Rainforest Trust, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) are collaborating to help protect and restore a relict population of the Eastern Malay River Terrapin in the Sre Ambel River system of Cambodia. You can directly aid this effort by supporting these organizations. To read more about our efforts there, read A 'Royal' Conservation Effort for Cambodia.

Photo credit: Mengey Eng/WCS

A 'Royal' Conservation Effort for Cambodia
Category Blog
Published: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 17:48:06 +0000

By Andrew Walde

Male Royal Turtle FINAL

A beautiful male captive-reared Southern River Terrapin eyes freedom on the shores of the Sre Ambel River. Credit: Mengey Eng/WCS

On November 1, 2017, I left for a multi-week trip to Cambodia with Brian Horne, Coordinator of Freshwater Turtle and Tortoise Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The purpose of this trip was for two critically important agenda items for large riverine turtles: 1) The release of 25 critically endangered captive-reared adult Southern River Terrapins or Royal Turtles (Batagur affinis), and 2) Partake in a strategic technical workshop for large riverine turtles including Batagur.

The Royal Turtle, Cambodia's National Reptile, has been the focal species for the WCS's Cambodian chelonian program since 2001 when a small population was "rediscovered" in the Sre Ambel River. Initially started as a collaborative project with WCS and The Royal Government of Cambodia's Fisheries Administration (FiA), the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) helped build the initial grow-out facility for the species. Since this initial phase, the TSA has focused on other projects in the region. In 2016 the TSA was invited back into the fold to run the turtle program in Cambodia as a joint project. Up until last year, the Cambodian program had a single-species-focus on the Southern River Terrapin, but in 2016 the WCS/TSA team took over a project for the endangered Asian Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) on the Mekong River from Conservation International (CI). These two species will take a significant multi-pronged conservation approach through community outreach, nest protection, habitat protection, and vigilant law enforcement efforts to maintain and increase their Cambodian populations.

Male Royal Turtle ThmeyThmey Copyright

A male Southern River Terrapin displays its serrated jaws, used for feeding on aquatic vegetation. Credit: Nhek Sreyleak

Stepping off the plane in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, we met up with the WCS Bronx Zoo Zoological Health Program team (WCS Health Team) of Paul Calle, Angela Perry, and Kate McClave. The five of us headed straight out for Koh Kong, the capital city of Cambodia's Koh Kong Province (A six-hour drive after 23h of flights!). Once there, we could get set up to conduct health surveys of the Royal Turtles in the colony and select animals for the upcoming release. Because the reintroduction of these 25 animals would only be the second of its type for the program and part of a complex strategy to bolster the wild population (believed extinct until the year 2000) in Cambodia, releasing the most fit individuals is of the utmost importance for the efficacy of the initiative.

The next day, we set to work on capturing Royal Turtles from the big earthen pond at the Koh Kong facility—where the water visibility is just about zero. After we caught a couple, we set up a makeshift lab and started processing the turtles. We then sent the health team back to the hotel to work out the kinks on processing the samples. While the WCS Health Team worked on turtle health protocols and processes, Brian, Jay Allen, and I went to work on making improvements to the new ponds that the turtles were going to be transferred to. For the next five days we cycled through turtle captures, turtle processing, health assessments, attaching acoustic transmitters, and then transferring over to pond construction. In the end, the WCS Health Team selected, processed, and tagged 13 female and 12 male turtles aged approximately 8 years for release. It was fun, but long, hot, and tiring work!

Team Turtle

Andrew Walde, Shailendra Singh, Kalyar Platt, German Forero-Medina, and Camila Ferrara with male terrapins. Credit: Pelf Nyok 

On the afternoon of November 9th, Phase II of the Koh Kong trip began. Our chelonian colleagues from around the world descended on Koh Kong to participate in a technical workshop and retreat to discuss large riverine turtle conservation efforts, issues, and future directions. The mood was immediately lively as everyone presented their work, and had comments, suggestions, and ideas to share to help the other projects. The experience and knowledge sharing on large riverine turtles from the 12 countries represented was an experience I don't think any of us will forget.

Workshop Group Photo

Back row: Steve Platt, Som Sitha, Andrew Walde, Lonnie McCaskill, Paul Calle, Maslin As-singkly, German Forero-Medina, Kalyar Platt.  Front row: Brian Horne, Shailendra Singh, Camila Ferrara, Joko Guntoro, Rony Garcia, Pelf Nyok 

The day following the technical workshop, the 25 Royal Turtles designated for release were introduced into the Sre Ambel River to much fanfare. The release was attended by more than 30 project participants representing the TSA, WCS, FiA, and Wildife Reserves Singapore (WRS), government officials, and news reporters. Publicity for the event was extensive, with television, newspaper, and magazine outlets all covering the release. There was a huge swirl of emotions watching those Batagur return to their native river and we were rewarded with several turtles "breaching" like whales (which none of us had ever seen before). This was the second such release of adult Royal Turtles into the Sre Ambel, following a release of 21 individuals in 2015. Like this cohort, the original 21 turtles were fitted with acoustic transmitters to monitor their movements and survivorship in the river.

Andrew and Pat Release   Release

Left: Andrew Walde and TSA Chairman of the Board Patricia Koval release terrapins. Right: HE Srun Lim Song, Deputy Director General of the FiA releases a terrapin. Credits: Kalyar Platt

The initial release of individuals in 2015 has thus far proven successful. After two years of monitoring, this original group has shown an 85 percent survival rate. To continue this success, the teams in Cambodia must stay vigilant with community relations to help ensure the animals are not caught for consumption. In addition to the threat of capture of this animal for food, habitat alteration and degradation has been a large factor for this turtle's disappearance in Cambodia. Prior to July of this year, sand-dredging was a major impact on the destruction of Royal Turtle habitat and nesting beaches. In July, the Cambodian government halted large-scale sand-dredging and sand-mining operations in the rivers of the Koh Kong Province. This move is exprected to increase the survivability and reproductive potential of the two cohorts of Royal Turtles released there. Furthermore, the WCS and Rainforest Trust have entered into a mutual conservation partnership with the goal of creating a sanctuary along the Sre Ambel river – an initiative that will be vital to long-term conservation efforts for the turtles.

Brian Horne Steve Platt

Brian Horne, Sonja Luz, Heng Sovannara, Steve Platt, and HE Srun Lim Song. Credit: Kalyar Platt

The day following the release of Royal Turtles, we attended the official opening of the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre (KKRCC). With work on the facility beginning in 2016 as an initiative of the WCS and FiA, the 24 acre (9.7 ha) center currently houses around 160 Royal Turtles in its eight ponds. Like the previous day's event, the opening ceremony of the center was well attended by WCS, FiA, and TSA staff, private and public sponsors, government officials including the Province's Deputy Governor, Buddhist monks, and news media outlets. As part of the ceremonies, our TSA Chairman of the Board Patricia Koval gave an impassioned speech for the opening of the center, of which her and husband Alan Koval's foundation are supporters.

At the end of the opening ceremonies for the KKRCC, a local couple donated an adult pair of Royal Turtles to the center. The pair of turtles were long-term captives, owned by Koh Kong Provincial Fisheries Administration Official Nay Ol, who rescued them from villagers whom had planned on cooking and eating the turtles. The female was purchased from villagers in 2000 and the male several years after that. Due to their Critically Endangered status, the WCS had been trying for over 10 years to incorporate these individuals into the assurance colony—and their persistence paid off. With the wild Cambodian population of Royal Turtles estimated at just a handful of adults, the adult pair will play a significant role in improving genetic diversity for the captive-breeding initiative at the KKRCC.

   Pat Ribbon Cutting      Walter and Pat Release

Left: TSA Chairman of the Board Patricia Koval and and government officials cut the ribbon at the new KKRCC. Right: TSA Board member Walter Sedgwick and Patricia Koval release terrapins at the KKRCC. Credits: Andrew Walde

After all the celebrations, it was right back to business with another set of meetings to discuss with WCS leaders and donors how to build a more effective turtle conservation program with our partners. The various country programs presented on some of their successes and issues, and we discussed how to move turtle conservation from reactive to proactive to increase the impact of the overall program. The following day was kicked off by a talk on wildlife trafficking and defining the turtle trade issue, followed by a discussion on leveraging partnerships, of where I gave a talk on the TSA's model and the various types of partnerships that we have. The final day of the retreat was spent discussing restoring functional turtle populations, how to measure and communicate our results, and how to incorporate the past two weeks of discussion into the core elements of a five-year strategy.

Group Photo

Back row: Steve Platt, Rob Menzi, Paul Calle, Meng Sovannara, Brian Horne, Kalyar Platt, Andrew Walde, Shailendra Singh.  Front row: Colin Poole, Joe Walston, Lonnie McCaskill

After the meeting, a group of us headed north to Siem Reap to visit our friends and collaborators at the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB). There we saw the impressive efforts being made at on behalf of chelonians, and discussed ways forward for future projects and collaborations.

This trip was what conservation is all about. A group of committed individuals, sharing ideas, and pitching in to make things happen. Releasing critically endangered animals that we have known for over 10 years into the wild is one of those experiences that you just can't describe. It is such a mixed emotion of hope for their future, fear for their survival, and the excitement of re-wilding an animal that is effectively extinct in the wild. All of this, made that much better by getting to share it with the Global Turtle Team.

Andrew and BrianAndrew Walde and Brian Horne hold a male Southern River Terrapin before release. Credit: Kalyar Platt



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