Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Palawan forest turtle

Nominated by: Katala Foundation

Why do you love it?

The Palawan forest turtle, also known as the Philippine pond turtle, is one of the rarest, most endangered, and least known turtles in the world. It is only found in five municipalities in Northern Palawan, Philippines and nowhere else in the world!

This species lives in small streams in lowland forests. The beautiful coloration of juveniles and the impressive bodies of adults are rarely seen because the species is extremely shy and nocturnal. At dusk they emerge from their dens and shelters to forage on aquatic invertebrates, plants and wild fruits that fall into the stream. The latter helps to regenerate the riverine habitat since most of the seeds germinate after passing through the digestive tract. Adults also feed on the invasive golden apple snail, an alien pest species, while juveniles take mosquito larvae. By doing so they help reduce agricultural pest species and invertebrate-borne diseases.

Though physically extremely tough, the species is susceptible to stress and has low fertility. They are not doing well in captivity and have never been successfully captive bred.

What are the threats to the Palawan forest turtle?

This species is facing a combination of threats. Being a lowland forest species, the species is more and more threatened by habitat destruction and conversion, mainly through slash-and-burn farming practices, timber cutting, agricultural encroachment, and quarrying. Like the other freshwater turtle species in the Philippines, S. leytensis is consumed locally as source of protein. Commercial exploitation for food and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) though is causing a more severe threat to the wild populations. Yet, the biggest threat to the Palawan Forest Turtle is its perceived rarity. Just months after its rediscovery was published in 2004, the species was available on the international pet markets of Europe, Japan, China and the USA. Since then prices remained high and are still at some $2,000 USD per individual.

In 2015, the species received the dubious honour of almost having been eradicated, when it was found in the largest ever made confiscation of a Critically Endangered freshwater turtle.

What are you doing to save it?

In 2007, KFI established quarantine, rescue and holding facilities at the Katala Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation in Narra, Palawan, where the only range assurance colony of Siebenrockiella leytensis is maintained.

In partnership with academic institutions and wildlife agencies on Palawan, Katala Foundation is leading public awareness campaigns that are designed to improve law enforcement against illegal wildlife trade. Likewise, KFI conducts scientific research on the management of Philippine freshwater turtles and their habitats, and educates and capacitates stakeholders on natural resource management and conservation, and restoration of the species’ habitats.

Distribution surveys and long-term studies on population trends, ecology, and life history of the Palawan forest turtle are also being undertaken by KFI since 2007.

KFI established the first protected area for a freshwater turtle in the Philippines in Dumarao, Roxas, Palawan in 2013. The expansion of the area into an adjacent lowland forest is currently being discussed.

Together with numerous helpers, KFI managed to rescue most of the 4,000 individuals that had been confiscated during what became known as the Palawan Forest Turtle Crisis in 2015. In total, 3,385 individuals were released back to the wild within the indigenous range of the species and KFI continues to monitor these sites today.

VOTE NOW!

May 23

The 23rd of May is World Turtle Day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to highlighting the plight of turtle species around the world. Here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate by sharing our top turtle facts.

Did you know…

  • Turtles are found on every continent, except for Antarctica
  • The age of most juvenile turtles can be determined by the upper shell, which grows each year from a central point
  • Turtles are thought to have lived on earth for over 200 million years
  • The sex of most turtle hatchlings is dependent on the temperature which they are incubated at, with males hatching at low temperatures and females hatching when the temperature is higher

Lovely Loggerheads

  • The loggerhead turtle has powerful jaws that can make easy work of its hard-shelled prey.
  • It is highly migratory and is known to cross oceans.

Not a jack in a box

  • Box turtles gain their common name from their hinged shell which enables them to completely close their shell to protect themselves.
  • The male ornate box turtle has enlarged claws on its hindfeet to grip onto the female while mating.

Vast vertebrate

  • The leatherback turtle is the world’s largest turtle, with the average carapace (the shell covering the back) reaching around 160 centimetres and the largest recorded individual weighing up to 916 kilograms.
  • Uniquely, the leatherback turtle is able to maintain an elevated body temperature, giving it the ability to dive to depths of up to 1,000 metres in pursuit of prey.

Snappy by name, snappy by nature

  • The alligator snapping turtle is nicknamed the ‘dinosaur of the turtle world’ due to its prehistoric, alligator-like appearance, from which it gains its common name.
  • The tongue of the alligator snapping turtle has a small, worm-like projection, which is wiggled to attract prey.

What is being done to help?

Thankfully, various conservation organisations and individuals are working tirelessly to help save turtles and tortoises from the brink of extinction. Here are some actions being taken to ensure the future survival of these fascinating creatures:

  • Shrimp fisheries are now using Turtle Excluder Devices, which only allow shrimp-sized objects to enter the nets, preventing turtles from being caught as bycatch
  • Many species are now listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade is strictly monitored and controlled – this should hopefully prevent some collection of wild turtles for the international pet trade
  • Some nesting sites are protected during the nesting season to ensure that eggs cannot be collected and subsequently sold
  • Captive breeding programmes and the protection of areas which are known to support turtle populations could ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent reptiles

Are you turtley in awe of sea turtles? Want to learn more about them? Then why not check out our eggshellent ARKive Education resource – Turtle Life Cycle – and play the turtle-tastic board game!

Find out more about turtles, tortoises and their conservation:

View photos and videos of turtle and tortoise species on ARKive

May 3

Carbonell’s wall lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)

Species: Carbonell’s wall lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Until 2002 it was thought that Carbonell’s wall lizard was a subspecies of Bocage’s wall lizard (Podarcis bocagei).

More information: Carbonell’s wall lizard is a small, compact lizard that is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, where it lives in forests and forest clearings in highly fragmented populations. Ordinarily this lizard is brown or black, but during the breeding season the male has bright green jagged-edged stripes on its upper side and vivid green sides. Both the male and female Carbonell’s wall lizard are usually whitish on the belly, although they may sometimes be slightly pink or red. This reptile forages on the ground for a wide variety of arthropod prey, including beetles and spiders.

Several threats to Carbonell’s wall lizard have been identified, including habitat degradation and loss which has occurred in many areas throughout its range due to forest fires, development for tourism and the establishment of pine wood plantations. The southernmost island-dwelling populations of Carbonell’s wall lizard are thought to be at risk from the negative effects of climate change, and hybridisation between this species and Bocage’s wall lizard threatens the population in the north.

Many areas of this species’ range are protected, including the Coto Doñana National Park in Spain. More research into the threats facing Carbonell’s wall lizard would facilitate the creation of appropriate conservation measures and highlight how urgently these measures are required.

Find out more about Carbonell’s wall lizard and other species found in European forests

See images of Carbonell’s wall lizard on ARKive

Find out more about other wall lizard species

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 2

Recently, the saiga, an odd-looking Critically Endangered antelope of the Mongolian steppes, was highlighted in the media due to a sharp-eyed Star Wars fan noticing its striking resemblance to some of the characters from the series. This discovery led to a surge of interest in the species and the various threats to its survival.

The 'Star Wars-like' saiga antelope

The saiga is not the only animal with more than a passing resemblance to creatures from the Star Wars galaxy. To celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4th, we attempted to seek out even more lookalikes from the natural world. Can you guess which Star Wars characters we think these species resemble?

Hint 1: You don’t want to owe him a debt

Arabian toad-headed agama image

Hint 2: Always seen with the previous character

Sri Lankan frogmouth image

Hint 3: It’s a carp!

Common carp image

Hint 4: Much larger in Star Wars

Wingless mantis image

Hint 5: Natives of Endor

Brown howling monkey image

Hint 6: They hope it isn’t a cold night

Thinhorn sheep image

Hint 7: Aggrrttaaggrrttaaggrrttaaggrr!

Sumatran orangutan image

Hint 8: With you the fourth May be!

Horsfields tarsier image

These resemblances are more than just a coincidence, with the inspiration for Wookies coming from orangutans, lemurs and dogs.

These amazing creatures highlight the many unique gifts that the biodiversity of Earth gives us. The vast array of morphologies and lifestyles on Earth has influenced human creativity throughout history, from ancient mythology through to science fiction. Whether we realise it or not, all of us draw inspiration from the creatures around us and the world would be a much drabber place without these weird and wonderful animals. Why not see if you can find any other lookalikes, and leave a comment below.

Answers: 1. Jabba the Hutt, 2. Salacious B. Crumb, 3. Admiral Ackbar, 4. The Acklay, 5. Ewok, 6. Tauntaun, 7. Wookie, 8. Yoda

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 1

As the first light of day spills over the sea like lava, we set off in a small boat to explore the waters around Goat Islands. Paulette, the only registered fisherwoman in the community, tells me when I ask about local opinion about the development, “The government claims it will bring jobs and opportunity to the area, but we are not qualified, and we are not being trained, for the jobs that will need to be done. They tell us what they want us to hear, but the reality is that we will be worse off”. I recently read a comment that said the government is, “selling straw baskets to the poor to carry water”, and could not think of a better analogy.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood

As we circle Goat Islands, Herman points out two fish sanctuaries fringing the mangroves and asks, “How can they say this won’t impact our livelihoods?” Despite being protected under four laws and containing two forest reserves, six game sanctuaries, and three fish sanctuaries, and despite the fact that the Jamaican Constitution states that all Jamaicans have “the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage,” the government appears to believe it can sell off a living, breathing ecosystem for the right price. The reasons that other sites, such as Kingston Harbour, have not been considered have not been fully explained.

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

The old adage says that we will conserve only that which we love. I cannot claim to love Goat Islands, and my relationship with Portland Bight Protected Area has been fleeting. After experiencing it first hand, I do feel more of a personal affinity to the place and to the people fighting to protect it, and can claim to appreciate its unique beauty.

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

As a photographer, my job is to translate my personal experiences of being there into something universal; to move others to feel as I did. But as I try to decipher what made me care enough to hop on a plane to Kingston, I keep returning to the feeling that was stirred in me before I had set foot on Jamaican soil; before I had sat in dappled limestone forest overlooking the Hellshire Hills, or stared into a star-filled sky over the Caribbean while sand cooled my feet. I keep returning to how I felt when I first learned of the loss of somewhere I had never been. What I felt was outrage that something as sacrosanct as a protected area – a natural treasure – could be sold off for a quick profit. I felt empathy toward those that had devoted their lives to recovering the Jamaican iguana, and angry that all their hard work could go up in smoke. I felt as if I had just learned that the government of Italy was chipping away at the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to sell piece by piece. This was not the world that I wanted my son to know; and so, I had to play my part to try to protect Goat Islands.

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Find out more about the #savegoatislands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Read Guest Blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part one

Read Guest blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part two

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