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First-ever critically endangered Palawan Forest Turtle hatched under human care

Recorded for the first time, the critically endangered Palawan Forest Turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis) has been hatched under human care. The success means new hope for the ASAP Species, which is highly sought after for the illegal wildlife trade. The turtle is currently teetering on the brink of extinction.

After nearly five years of conservation breeding efforts, two ASAP Partners, the Katala Foundation Inc and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, have announced the news. The critically endangered turtle was hatched from parents that had been living for years at their assurance colony facilities in Palawan, Philippines.

“The recent breeding success is a true milestone in the conservation of this important species, and gives us hope that we can turn things around even for lesser known species in this region,” said Dr Sonja Luz, Director, Conservation, Research and Veterinary Services, Wildlife Reserves Singapore.


The hatchling measured 4 cm in length and weighed 14 grams at the age of 6 days. Photo credit: Katala Foundation Inc

Dr Sabine Schoppe, Director of the Palawan Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program of Katala Foundation, said, “(We) now have better understanding on their food preferences, incubation requirements like humidity and temperature, incubation time, nesting requirements, enclosure and furniture design, and necessary environmental conditions to trigger reproduction.”

While there are two public records for the successful incubation of eggs from wild-caught Palawan Forest Turtles, Dr Schoppe cautioned against terming such cases as ‘captive bred’. She said  it would inevitably bring about laundering of wild caught animals to facilitate trade.

“Captive breeding implies the production of offspring from parents under human care, so the hatching of eggs of gravid wild-caught females does not qualify as true captive breeding,” she said.


The turtle baby hatched from this egg on 24 June 2018. Photo credit: Katala Foundation Inc

Since 2008, alleged captive bred Palawan turtles have been offered for sale on the Internet worldwide. There are also anecdotal claims made by turtle enthusiasts and zoological institutions of captive breeding.

For many reptile species, the false declaration as captive bred still provides a major loophole in controlling illegal wildlife trade. The lack of transparency and sufficient knowledge on the biology and reproductive physiology of many reptiles still allows traders to fool authorities into believing such animals are captive bred.

Both organisations added that they take a strong stand against the illegal wildlife trade and hope that ongoing research at Katala Foundation’s facilities can shed more light on the issue.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore has been a key partner funding the Katala Foundation since 2014, supporting the facility by building capacities in the areas of veterinary medicine, breeding research and husbandry of not only the Palawan Forest Turtle but also the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo.

A scientific publication shall follow in due time.

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