September 7, 2009

World’s Rarest Turtle Found In The Wild

Thought to be extinct, the Arakan forest turtle was discovered by scientists working in a remote part of Myanmar, according to a statement by a conservation group on Monday.

Texas researcher Steven Platt along with the staff from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society discovered five of the brown-and-tan-spotted turtles in May during a survey of wildlife in the dense bamboo forests of the Rakhine Yoma Elephant Sanctuary.

The Arakan forest turtles, still considered as "critically endangered", were believed to be extinct until 1994, when conservationists first located just a few of the turtles in captivity in a Chinese food market, said the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

"We are delighted and astonished that this extremely rare species is alive and well in Myanmar," said Colin Poole, WCS director of Asian programs.

"Now we must do what we can to protect the remaining population."

According to Poole, the Asian turtles were being "wiped out" by poachers  in the illegal wildlife trade to sell for their highly sought after meat and for "medical cures".

Prior to the 1994 discovery, the last known record of the Arakan forest turtle was of a single animal gathered by a British army officer in 1908, the group said.

Along with the latest examples in the Myanmar sanctuary, scientists also found rare and threatened yellow tortoises and Asian leaf turtles along the paths through the thick bamboo made by the elephants.

The shell of the Arakan turtle is light brown with some showing black mottling or a black border, with a distinct serrated edge on the back.

They are known by the locals as "Pyant Cheezar" which means "turtle that eats rhinoceros feces".

However, it was noted that the name is a bit out-dated since the Sumatran rhinos that once lived in the area were killed off 50 years ago, by over-hunting.

The team recommended several measures be taken to ensure the turtles remain protected in the sanctuary. They say that guard posts be set up on roads going to and from the park to hinder poaching and also that additional data should be collected on the species so that conservation plans can be further developed.


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