Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Brunei Town

On the right track

A recent report shared an exciting news for the conservation community as the eggs and hatchlings of the endemic and critically endangered Burmese peacock softshell turtles (Nilssonia Formosa) were discovered in Indawgyi Lake, Kachin State of Myanmar.

The success can be attributed to the “turtle guardians”, local communities in the area supported by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in Myanmar, who have been protecting the turtle nesting sites. When they initially began safeguarding a number of nests and eggs in October, the turtle guardians had no idea which species of turtle they were dealing with.

However, the revelation that the eggs belonged to the elusive Burmese peacock softshell turtles when they hatched in June brought a welcome surprise.

Turtles are the most threatened group of vertebrate animals in the world with over 60 per cent of known species severely imperiled by habitat loss and degradation, pollution of freshwater and marine ecosystems, unsustainable exploitation, invasive alien species and climate change.

Softshell turtles, including the Burmese peacock softshell turtles, belong to the family Trionichydae and are highly diverse in the Asian region, where approximately 27 of the 35 known species can be found in freshwater and estuarine ecosystems. These turtles, known for their secretive nature, have limited information available regarding their life history, ecology, and distribution. Interestingly, new species of freshwater turtles are continuously being discovered in unexplored regions of Asia.

Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda at Indawgyi Lake. PHOTO: MYO THET

The Burmese peacock softshell turtles are named after the black and orange spots on their shells, reminiscent of the distinct pattern found in peacock feathers. These highly aquatic turtles thrive in large rivers with sandy substrates, where they lay their eggs on sandbanks.

Each clutch typically contains around 20 eggs, but it remains unknown how many clutches a female may lay in a year. The Mandalay Zoo is actively involved in breeding this species and currently houses a number of hatchlings.

The primary threats to the survival of these turtles are habitat loss and trading for the East Asian food market.

A PRIDE OF ASEAN

The Indawgyi Lake is home to a multitude of species – from migratory birds to native and endemic species that are uniquely ASEAN.

Known as the largest inland lake in the ASEAN region and the third largest in the world, it is situated within the Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary. It serves as a vital habitat for over 160 bird species, including critically endangered ones, making it a globally important site for bird conservation. Additionally, the lake plain provides refuge to more than 20,000 migratory birds, such as the sarus crane, wood snipe, and lesser adjutant.

Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary Park Manager U Maung Win emphasised the sanctuary’s significance in conserving other species of high conservation importance, such as the great hornbill, oriental pied hornbill, rufous-necked hornbill, wreathed hornbill, oriental brown hornbill, green peafowl, eastern hoolock gibbon, shortridge’s langur, and hog deer.

The preservation of endemic and commercial fish within Indawgyi Lake and rivers is also given high priority. With over 90 fish species present, including two endemic species and six newly discovered species, the lake represents a remarkable reservoir of aquatic biodiversity.

The importance of Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary has been officially recognised as it was declared an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2003.

The ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme aims to acknowledge and protect areas with exceptional biological and ecological diversity, and there are currently only 55 of these protected areas considered regionally important.

ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Dr Theresa Mundita Lim emphasised the valuable role of the ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs) in supporting the thriving of unique ASEAN wildlife and ensuring the survival of species.

The hatching of the rare Burmese peacock turtles in Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary serves as a testament to this.

To conserve the rich biological resources in Indawgyi, the AHP programme paves the way for financial and technical support from various partners such as the Federal Government of Germany, through the KfW-supported ACB Small Grants Programme. Through this programme, small grant projects on sanitation and waste management, agriculture and value chain development, sustainable fishery management, and nature-positive tourism are being implemented.

U Maung Win shared that AHP designation has also contributed to the improvement of local communities’ livelihood within the park through the implementation of various projects in organic farming, organic home gardening, agroforestry, and ecotourism.

Indawgyi offers a unique spiritual, cultural, and intimate encounter with nature due to its isolation from popular tourist destinations.

Aside from its natural features, it is known for the Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda, which is strategically positioned in the lake.

Imagine paddling a kayak across the tranquil lake, witnessing a breathtaking sunset, and being surrounded by a myriad of birds while catching a glimpse of a golden pagoda. Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary offers all this and more – an enchanting hidden paradise that deserves preservation and protection. – Pamela Quintos-Reblora, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity

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