Some Asian turtle species are already extinct in the wild or are only still present in small populations. This fate is also shared by the representatives of the genus of hinged turtles (Cuora spp.) which includes 13 species.
Above all, the loss of habitat but especially the excessive trade as food or as supposed medicine is causing the population of the box turtles a lot of difficulties. Turtles, especially box turtles have traditionally been part of Chinese medicine and cuisine. The few breeding facilities in Southeast Asia are far from being able to meet the steadily increasing demand. As a result turtles are now being captured from the wild throughout the entire Southeast Asian region and far beyond - right down to South America and Africa - in order to meet the demand in the Southeast Asian markets. Every year millions of individuals - including highly endangered species - are offered for sale on the market. Almost all relevant species are on the verge of extinction or are no longer found in their natural habitats.
To help these special animals the box turtle was voted "Species of the Year 2018".
The International Center for Turtle Protection (IZS) at the all-weather zoo in Münster gives many turtle species the chance of a last-minute rescue.
Turtles play a special role in Southeast Asian culture: they are considered to be lucky charms and symbolize a long life. These positive properties are great danger to the turtles because in addition to the destruction of their habitats they suffer from the fact that they are collected and sold on different markets as well.
Their meat, offal or ground bones and shell are part of traditional cuisine and medicine. Millions of individuals migrate to kitchens and pharmacies every year - an intervention that natural populations cannot compensate for.
Because of this situation the privateer Elmar Meier, the Zoological Society for Species and Population Protection (ZGAP), the German Society for Herpetology and Terrarium Science (DGHT) and the All-Weather Zoo Münster founded the International Center for Turtle Protection in 2003. The aim of the center is in particular to save the highly endangered species of box turtles from extinction.
Nine species and subspecies of the Cuora genus are currently being bred in the IZS. The IZS saved at least one of these species from extinction: Zhoui’s box tortoise (Cuora zhoui) was only known by a few individuals that were found on Chinese markets. The sustainable successful breeding of the species was only successful in Münster so that today about 70% of the known world population hatched in Münster. Last year a very special offspring was born: the first individuals whose parents were also born in the zoo have hatched . This success shows that the species can be stabilized sustainably in human care because a release to the wild is not to be thought of so far.
The Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) was founded in 2003 as one of the first species conservation centres in Cambodia. Located nearby the famous temple complex of Angkor Wat it is dedicated to taking in and caring for selected local animals and if possible later releasing them in compliance with appropriate international standards.
It was originally founded as a sanctuary for individuals of endangered species. Today with around 30 employees the center is also dedicated to conservation breeding and environmental education. It serves as a training and education center for the local population, pupils, students, employees of the nature conservation authorities and visitors.
The aim is to raise environmental awareness and to develop skills in the field of nature conservation and environmental management, as well as to promote the sustainable use of natural resources. The implementation of in-situ nature conservation measures and nature conservation-relevant (field) research in Cambodia as well as the provision of information for the future management of the nature conservation areas are among the tasks.
The Amboina box turtle is now very successfully bred in the ACCB in outdoor facilities under near-natural conditions. Since more than 100 young animals have already been raised it can now be considered to release the animals from a scientific point of view in a well-protected area.
However, this is where the problems begin because in addition to the approriately protected habitats there is currently a lack of experience in the release of box turtles. Telemetry studies should help to better understand the species and its requirements in the wild. This should not only collect data on preferred habitats but also on emigration, the size of the territories and behavior.
These studies are important in order to increase the chances of success of later resettlements and thus the chances that the species will re-establish itself in the habitats there.
With the support of the “Species of the Year” campaign the best possible conditions for the release and subsequent monitoring of the animals are to be created in Cambodia.
More information is available on the Species of the year homepage
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