Chindwin River pollution sparks concern for critically endangered turtles

Ma Phe Nyein
Rare specie Myanmar Roofed Turtles (Photo-U Myo Min Win-WCS/TSA)

The survival of the critically endangered Myanmar roofed turtle is under threat after many of the creatures were killed by water pollution in the Chindwin River, said Dr Ka layer, director of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).

Rain from Cyclone Mora saw the river rise suddenly in Kani and Homalin Townships, Sagaing Region, on May 31, followed by water pollution that killed off river life on June 1.

“The roofed turtle is one of eight species of endangered turtle which aren’t seen anywhere except in Myanmar. In the wild they are only found on the upper Chindwin River at Lin Phar village, Kani Township. This is a critically endangered species with only five adult female roofed turtles in the wild. Fishing with poison and dynamite killed off all male roofed turtles and the eggs of the females where found to be infertile. We took the eggs and incubated them using modern methods, then released the 60 hatchlings at Lin Phar village two years ago. Since then the eggs have been fertile. However, there have been massive fish deaths due to gold mining on the upper Chindwin, climate change, water pollution and landslides. So we are now worried that the roofed turtles won’t survive. We are also trying to educate villagers on turtle conservation through a door-to-door awareness programme,” said the TSA’s Ka Layar.

Roofed turtles were thought to be extinct in Myanmar until they were rediscovered near Lin Phar village close to Htamanthi Wildlife Reserve in 2001-02.

In 2005 the Forest Department at the reserve joined hands with the Wildlife Conservation Society and TSA to launch conservation and breeding programmes.

Those efforts have seen about 800 baby roofed turtle hatchlings released at Lin Phar village and also at the Yardanabon Zoological Gardens in Mandalay and Lawkananda Pagoda in Bagan. Hatchlings have even been sent to Singapore.

Myanmar is home to 26 species of turtle, half of which are critically endangered.

Translated by Khin Set Maw