The batagur is one of Asia's largest freshwater turtles; individuals can reach up to 60 cm in length (2). The shell (carapace) is brown and the body colour varies both between the sexes and in different seasons; mature males develop an intense black colour and dramatically white eyes during the breeding season (2).
Little is known about the natural ecology and behaviour of batagurs, partly because the highly silted rivers of their habitat make observations particularly difficult (5). Individuals are known to undertake massive seasonal migrations of 50 to 60 miles to the sand banks that constitute their breeding grounds (2). Females usually lay three clutches of between 10 and 30 eggs each during the breeding season (2); when she has laid her clutch of eggs she covers the nest with sand and then rises and falls on the surface to compact the sand, the resultant rhythmic 'tun tonk' sound has led to the species' Malay name of 'tuntong' (6).
Numbers of batagur have been decimated by the loss of habitat and the over-collection of both adults and eggs (5). Recently, there has been an increase in the market for turtle meat and eggs in Asia and the resulting unsustainable harvest has pushed many species to the brink of extinction (7). It is estimated that batugars in Malaysia declined by over 90% during the 20th Century (8), and the species is now considered to be Critically Endangered (1).
These turtles are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3); international trade is thus prohibited, although illegal collection is still widespread (1). The Bronx Zoo in New York has recently achieved the first captive breeding of batagurs and this may offer a glimmer of hope for the survival of this fascinating turtle (5).
To learn more about a Whitley Award-winning conservation project for this species, click here.
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