Arakan forest turtle (Heosemys depressa)

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Close-up of an Arakan forest turtle
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Arakan forest turtle fact file

Arakan forest turtle description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderTestudines
FamilyBataguridae
GenusHeosemys (1)

The Arakan forest turtle was long thought to be extinct, having last been seen in 1908, until it was rediscovered in 1994 when a few specimens were spotted in a Chinese food market (4). The carapace of this medium-sized turtle is light brown, with some individuals exhibiting black mottling or a black border, and the shell edge is distinctly serrated at the back (2) (5). The yellow to tan coloured plastron is marked with dark brown to black blotches or radiating streaks on each scute (2) (5). The head is uniformly grey to brown, the soft skin of the neck, limbs and tail is pale yellowish-brown, while the large scales on the legs are nearly black (2) (5). The claws are large and strong, with half-webbed toes on the forelimbs, but only basal webbing on the hindlimbs (5).

Synonyms
Geoemyda arakana, Geoemyda depressa.
Size
Carapace length: to 26.3 cm (2)
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Arakan forest turtle biology

Due to its rarity and only relatively recent rediscovery, virtually nothing is known about The Arakan forest turtle in the wild (2). Captive individuals are apparently omnivorous, feeding on bananas, strawberries, romaine lettuce, earthworms and newborn mice (2), but hunters have reported that vegetation, fruit, and mushrooms constitute the bulk of the diet in the wild (6).

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Arakan forest turtle range

The Arakan forest turtle is endemic to the Arakan Yoma Hill range of western Myanmar (6).

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Arakan forest turtle habitat

The Arakan forest turtle occurs in evergreen, deciduous and bamboo forests, usually near permanent and intermittent streams (6).

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Arakan forest turtle status

The Arakan forest turtle is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Arakan forest turtle threats

The greatest threat thought to face the Arakan forest turtle is over-collection from the wild, both for local consumption and commercial export to the Asian food markets, particularly those of China and Thailand (5) (7). Not only are these turtles consumed, but their shells are also sold for traditional medicinal use (5). Hunting usually involves using trained dogs to search out the turtles, but limited burning of bamboo forests to intercept and capture fleeing turtles also takes place. Fortunately, the market demand for this species is relatively low and current harvesting levels are thought to be minimal. Extensive tracts of habitat remain and the human population density of the region is amongst the lowest in Southeast Asia (6). Nevertheless, habitat loss and degradation may represent additional threats, due to logging operations, road construction, forest clearance for agriculture, large-scale bamboo harvesting for a proposed paper mill, and uncontrolled forest fires (5) (6). Furthermore, this turtle’s restricted geographic range, low population density, late onset of sexual maturity and low reproductive output render it vulnerable to overexploitation (5) (6). These combined threats have left the species in grave danger of extinction, so much so that it was officially recognised in 2003 as one of the world’s top 25 most endangered turtles (4).

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Arakan forest turtle conservation

The Arakan forest turtle is listed as a Protected Species in the Protection of Wildlife, Wild Plants and Conservation of Natural Areas Law of Myanmar, which was enacted in 1994. Furthermore, two large areas in the Arakan Yoma Hill range, Thanlwe-ma-e-chaung and Taungup Pass/Thandwe-chaung, have been proposed for official protected status. These areas are found just south of known Arakan forest turtle inhabited zones and possess similar habitat types as those currently used by the species (5). This turtle may already occur in the vicinity of these proposed protected areas, although no records exist, or could potentially be introduced to the regions should they be given protected status. Good numbers of this species exist in captivity, where attempts are being made to better understand its biology, which could help to guide effective conservation plans or possibly even lead to captive breeding and reintroduction programmes in the future (4). In the meantime, captive stock acts as an insurance population that buffers against total extinction. Nevertheless, it is imperative that every effort is now made to protect this little-known species, which managed to elude detection for so long, if we are to prevent it from disappearing from the wild forever.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the Arakan forest turtle see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Basal
Of, relating to, located at, or forming a base.
Carapace
In reptiles, the top shell of a turtle or tortoise.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Omnivore
A species that feeds on both plants and animals.
Plastron
In reptiles, the lower shell of a turtle or tortoise.
Scute
An enlarged, bony plate or scale on the carapace (the top shell of a turtle or tortoise).
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References

  1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (January, 2006)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Turtles of the World (CD-ROM), by Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. & Barbour, R.W. (March, 2006)
    http://nlbif.eti.uva.nl/bis/turtles.php?selected=foto&menuentry=inleiding&id=1
  3. CITES (January, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. The World’s Top 25 Most Endangered Turtles (March, 2006)
    http://www.conservation.org/ImageCache/news/content/press_5freleases/2003/may/turtle_5fkit/25turtprofiles0503_2epdf/v1/25turtprofiles0503.pdf
  5. CITES – Twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Santiago (Chile), 3-15 November 2002 - Consideration of Proposals for Amendment of Appendices I and II. Prop. 12.22 (March, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/12/prop/E12-P22.pdf
  6. Platt, S.G., Win Ko Ko, Kalyar, Myo Myo, Lay Lay Khaing and Rainwater, T.R. (2003) Ecology and conservation status of the Arakan forest turtle (Heosemys depressa) in western Myanmar. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 4(3): 678 – 681. (December, 2003)
    http://www.chelonian.org/ccb/
  7. The Asian Turtle Crisis Bulletin, Bulletin of the Asian Turtle Crisis Network (ATCN). 2004. Vol. 1, Issue 3. (March, 2006)
    http://nytts.org/vietnam/ATC%20Bulletin%20November%2004%20(PDF).pdf
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Image credit

Close-up of an Arakan forest turtle  
Close-up of an Arakan forest turtle

© Lee Kwok Shing, Kadoorie Conservation China / Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden

Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden
Lam Kam Road
Tai Po
New Territories
Hong Kong SAR
People's Republic of China
Fax: (852) 2483 1877
mwnlau@kfbg.org
http://www.kfbg.org

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