New hope for Asian Giant Tortoises | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 20, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:05 PM, June 21, 2019

New hope for Asian Giant Tortoises

Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA), a government registered nonprofit organisation centered on environmental conservation, and the Bangladesh Forest Department, bred land tortoises in captivity, for the first time in Bangladesh’s history.

Asian Giant Tortoises (Manouriaemys), which can weigh up to 37 kg and live up to 150 years, predate dinosaurs. As one of the most primitive species, even amongst tortoises and turtles, these large and resilient creatures have survived mass extinctions, but have grown critically endangered due to being hunted by people who are uninformed about the consequences.

The largest tortoise in Asia and the fourth largest worldwide, they inhabit the Indo-Burma hotspot which includes south-eastern parts of Chittagong Hill tracts. Through donations, transfers and rescues, CCA collected five female and two male tortoises. These numbers prevent inbreeding concerns. They have been homed in the rainforest-mimicking sanctuary in Turtle Conservation Center, Bhawal National Park, Gazipur.

Captive breeding, a last resort to ensuring survivability of a species, is fortunately inexpensive and easy for tortoises. Certain animals, like sharks, do not breed in captive and certain animals, like elephants, cause size-related difficulties. Asian Giant Tortoises pose no such issues. Historical evidence shows that they will not lay eggs, even if the eggs go rotten inside, if they are at unease with their surroundings. These tortoises did not lay any eggs from 2017 to 2018.  In January of this year,  CCA kept the tortoises undisturbed through lowering their feeding intensity and covering their breeding area. Soon after, the tortoises came out of their shells, and four females laid eggs. Three hatched on World Turtle Day, May 23rd.  The eggs were nurtured in incubators for the first week, and more hatchlings are expected.

An incredible breakthrough has occurred but the challenge of field release remains. Once the tortoises reach a reasonable size they can be let out into their native forests and monitored with radio transmitters. CCA aims to prevent the poaching of these creatures through legal aid from the Bangladesh Forest Department and by raising awareness and providing alternative options for the locals. At the earliest, the field release is expected to take place in 2020, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

Though the scarce literature keeps these species mysterious, CCA is determined to learn more and continue to give these long-living Asian Giant Tortoises a chance of surviving in Bangladesh. This pursuit may stand the test of time and will one day need to be carried on by the next generation. Nevertheless, with CCA’s diligence the tortoises can, slowly but surely, become a thriving species in the nation.

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