Central American river turtle
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|Central American River Turtle|
The Central American river turtle or Mesoamerican river turtle (Dermatemys mawii) locally known as the "hickatee" or tortuga blanca (white turtle) is the only living species in the family Dermatemydidae. Its closest relatives are only known from fossils.
It is a nocturnal, aquatic turtle that lives in larger rivers and lakes in Central America, from southern Mexico to northern Honduras. It is one of the world's most heavily exploited turtles and is classified a Critically Endangered species by the IUCN and is listed as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. The Central American river turtle has been intensely harvested, primarily for its meat, but also for its eggs and shells. The turtle has been nearly eliminated from much of its former range in southern Mexico.
It has a flattened carapace, usually a solid grey or almost black in color. Its plastron is normally cream-colored. In the juvenile, a distinctive keel is found down the center of the carapace, and the outer edges have serrations. These features are lost as the turtle ages. Its skin is predominantly the same color as the shell, with reddish or peach-colored markings around the neck and underside. Males can be differentiated from females by yellow markings on either side of their heads, and longer, thicker tails.
Mating and nesting occurs in the fall, from September to November. Females lay clutches of six to 20 eggs on the banks of waterways they otherwise would not normally be able to reach without the flooding caused by the seasonal rainfall.
Rarely found in captivity, the river turtle has been overhunted because of its value in the food market. Even the hatchlings and eggs are sold as food. The species' normally passive nature makes it relatively easy to catch. As such, it has been listed as a CITES Appendix II to prevent exportation, and local laws are in place to prevent them from being hunted.
Conservation efforts in Belize
On 7 December 2010, the first hickatee conservation forum and workshop was held at the University of Belize, Belmopan campus presented by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), in collaboration with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), the Environmental Research Institute at UB and the Belize Fisheries Department. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together members of the scientific community, government officials, NGOs and civil society to share information regarding the critically endangered Dermatemys mawaii.
The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), an international conservation partnership, is committed to no turtle extinctions. Focusing on species ranked critically endangered, the TSA supports projects or programs around the world with an emphasis on Madagascar and Asia. The mission of the TSA is: Transforming passion for turtles into effective conservation action through a global network of living collections and recovery programs. An important aspect of the meeting was to share the results of a recent country-wide survey of hickatee; it was conducted in April–May, and was supported by TSA in conjunction with local NGOs, and civil society under the authority of the Belize Fisheries Department. Results of the survey indicated the population is clearly headed towards extinction in Belize unless conservation measures are put in place. Local population extinctions have been documented, and current harvesting rates have been determined to be unsustainable. When compared to previous surveys, the most recent survey indicates the overall populations of hickatee continue to decline across the nation.
Captive turtle breeding program in Belize
A study, managed by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and conducted on Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE) property in Belize, began in early 2011 and is a low-maintenance operation focused on generating Dermatemys food plants, while exploring husbandry details, such as egg laying and incubation. Located in southern Belize along the Bladen River, BFREE encompasses 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) of forest and is situated among four protected areas (Bladen Nature Reserve, Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve, Deep River Forest Reserve and Maya Mountain Forest Reserve), which enhances the possibility of a successful breeding program.
The goal of the program is to generate hatchlings and release them to repopulate already depleted wild populations and, ultimately, relieve pressures of local populations. The program has the potential to be expanded once it is determined whether the species can be reliably reproduced in good numbers in captivity.
- Vogt et al. (2005). Dermatemys mawii. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is critically endangered
- CITES(2009) Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
- Ernest, C.H. and R.W. Barbour(1989) Turtles of the World, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
- IUCN (2009) International Union for Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.02
- Lee, J.C. The Amphibians and Reptiles of the Yucatán Peninsula. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
- USFWS (2009) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Program
- Polisar, J. (1997) Effects of Exploitation on Dermatemys mawii populations in northern Belize and Conservation Strategies for Rural Riverside Villages. pp. 441–443
- Rainwater, Thomas, Tom Pop, Octavio Cal,Steve Platt and Rick Hudson (2010) "Catalyzing Conservation in Belize for Central America's Imperiled River Turtle," Turtle Survival Alliance Magazine, August 2010, pp. 79–82.
|Wikispecies has information related to: Dermatemys mawii|
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- Dermatemydidae (all [=the only] species) at The Reptile Database
- Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education
- Belize Fisheries Department
- Turtle Survival Alliance