EXTREMELY RARE TURTLE RELEASED INTO THE WILD

SOUTHERN RIVER TERRAPIN, FIXED WITH A SATELLITE TRANSMITTER, IS SET FREE TO BREED IN THE WATERS OF CAMBODIA

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY, CAMBODIAN FISHERIES ADMINISTRATION, AND WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE WILL MONITOR TURTLE

LESS THAN 200 ADULT INDIVIDUALS REMAIN IN THE WILD

NEW YORK (January 18, 2012) – The Wildlife Conservation Society, in conjunction with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, announced today the successful release of a Southern River terrapin (Batagur affinis) – one of the most endangered turtles on earth – into the Sre Ambel River in Cambodia.

The turtle was released on Monday, January 16th at a ceremony attended by officials, conservationists, and local people.

The female turtle, which weighs approximately 75 pounds (34 kilograms), is fixed with a satellite transmitter that will allow conservationists to track its whereabouts – the first-ever satellite monitoring study for this species.

Captured in the Sre Ambel River by local fishermen in April, 2011, the turtle is one of an estimated 200 adults remaining in the wilds of Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It was voluntarily turned it over to the WCS Cambodia turtle team instead of being sold into the black market trade where it would have been sent to food markets in China.

The population in the Sre Ambel River is estimated at less than ten nesting females. Thus, this individual is extremely important for maintaining genetic diversity of this species that has already suffered drastic population declines.

WCS believes the population has an excellent chance of recovery as the coastal mangrove forests of Southeastern Cambodia are some of the largest and most pristine in Southeast Asia, spanning some 175 square miles (more than 45,000 hectares). These habitats are crucial to numerous aquatic and terrestrial animals and are vital nursery areas for marine fisheries.

Conservationists will monitor the turtle’s movements to see how it utilizes this region. Of particular interest is how the turtle navigates through commercial fishing grounds, as well as areas where it could be threatened by other factors such as habitat destruction by sand mining or conversion of mangrove forests into shrimp farming facilities.

WCS notes that numerous studies on similar long-lived species have shown that as little as a five percent increase in annual adult mortality can cause populations to go extinct.

“By reducing the adult mortality of the Southern River terrapin, even by fractions – as little as ten animals a year per population in this circumstance – we can have immediate and long-term positive impacts on the remaining wild populations of this critically endangered species” said Brian D. Horne of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Heng Sovannara, Deputy Director of Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration’s Conservation Department, is extremely hopeful that the release will enhance efforts to conserve the species. “By identifying areas that are most utilized by the turtles, we can pinpoint our efforts to reduce the turtles being caught as fishery by-catch as well as targeted hunting,” he said.

Dr. Sonja Luz, Deputy Director of Conservation & Research for Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said: “This project will contribute greatly to a much brighter future for this critically endangered terrapin. Hopefully, more public awareness and education opportunities will arise from this and allow us to create better protection tools and a safer environment for these amazing reptiles.”

In 2000, a small population of Southern River Terrapins, Batagur affinis, was found in the Sre Ambel after many years of being considered locally extinct.

The turtle was once considered solely the property of the King of Cambodia, but has been decimated by overhunting over the past two decades.

Following the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime, the Cambodian people were left in severe poverty, and with the growing international demand for turtles in China for human consumption, literally thousands of turtles were captured and sent to China for much needed income by the country’s impoverished people.

A turtle’s send off: A Southern river terrapin–one of the most endangered turtles on Earth–makes its way into Cambodia’s Sre Ambel River, in the midst of an admiring crowd. PHOTO CREDIT: Eleanor Briggs/Wildlife Conservation Society
Dr Brian D Horne, Turtle Coordinator for Wildlife Conservation Society, holds up the satellite transmitter against a juvenile Southern river terrapin that was bred at Singapore Zoo PHOTO CREDIT: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

NIGHT SAFARI’S BABY ELEPHANT READY TO GREET VISITORS

Singapore, 4 April 2011 – This April, Night Safari visitors will get to see the park’s first baby elephant in nine years, when the five-month-old calf makes his first public appearance. Born on 23 November last year, this latest addition to Night Safari’s brood of endangered Asian elephants has been named ‘Nila Utama’, after the Sumatran prince Sang Nila Utama, who founded the kingdom of Singapura in 1324.

The bold and inquisitive elephant was sired by Chawang, the sole bull elephant at Night Safari, which is managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS). Now 125cm tall and weighing a hefty 318 kg, it is the first elephant to be born at both Night Safari and Singapore Zoo in almost a decade. Visitors can witness the close bond between mother and baby at the Asian elephant exhibit from April onwards.

“Our four-month-old calf is growing up to be strong, curious, and independent. He is not afraid to leave his mother’s side to explore his surroundings and we have seen the little one even getting into the pool of water himself. Nila Utama is like our very own ‘Singapore son’ and we are excited for Singaporeans and tourists to get acquainted with him. WRS hopes his birth will go towards sustaining and increasing the population of Asian elephants both in captivity and in the wild,” said Ms Fanny Lai, Group CEO of WRS.

Nila Utama is the 11th addition to the family of Asian elephants at WRS, which also runs the Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo and the upcoming River Safari. His mother, Sri Nandong, has raised two other males, Sang Raja (‘noble one’) in 1999 and Sang Wira (‘brave one’) in 2001.

WRS runs successful breeding programmes across all its parks, and has done particularly well with breeding endangered animals such as the pangolin, Malayan sun bear, the orang utans and many others. It works with global partners to increase the gene pool of captive animals through various exchange programmes. For example, Chawang’s semen has been sent to zoos in Australia to help facilitate artificial inseminations with elephants there.

The population of Asian elephants in the wild is dwindling fast – even more so than their better recognised counterpart, the African elephant. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 are left in the forests of India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Habitat loss poses the most serious threat to the future of these magnificent creatures, as a large part of their native homes are being logged and cleared for urban and agricultural development resulting in human – elephant conflict. WRS is working with Wildlife Conservation Society in mitigating this in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Photo courtesy of Bjorn Olesen
Photo courtesy of Bjorn Olesen

WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE HOSTS REGIONAL WORKSHOP ON TURTLE CONSERVATION

PARTICIPANTS TO OUTLINE 10-YEAR ROADMAP TO SAVE THE EARTH’S OLDEST LIVING REPTILE

Singapore, 22 February 2011 – Turtles are the oldest reptiles left on Earth, with the earliest species found almost 300 million years ago, but many species alive today may not live to see the next century. That is why conservation groups across the world are meeting here this week to discuss pressing plans to ensure their survival in the wild.

Hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), the four-day workshop which kicked off at the Singapore Zoo yesterday aims to set the agenda for Asian turtle conservation in the next decade. It brings together delegates throughout Asia, Europe, Australia and the United States, including over 70 conservationists from 16 Asian countries, such as Pakistan, Philippines, China, and East Timor, who work closely with endangered freshwater turtles.

The event, themed ‘The Conservation of Asian Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles – Setting Priorities for the Next Ten Years’ is co-organised by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and is supported by San Diego Zoo Global, the Turtle Survival Alliance and the IUCN Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and Kadoorie Farm & Botanical Garden in Hong Kong.

The participation of some 39 participants has been sponsored by collaborating organisations and Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund (WRSCF), an independent charity set up by WRS in 2009 with the primary purpose of conserving endangered native wildlife.

The last meeting was held 10 years ago in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and this year’s agenda will include discussions to critically assess what has worked – and what has not – in protecting chelonian populations and preventing extinction of the species.

Human encroachment, combined with over-hunting and the illegal wildlife trade, are decimating the world’s population of turtles at a pace faster than they can reproduce. Prized highly for their meat and medicinal value, particularly in Southeast Asia and China, nearly more than half of the species of tortoises and turtles in the region are now on the verge of extinction.

Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, Vice President of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Species Program said: “Turtles are at a conservation crossroads. Some species are truly at the brink of extinction with just a few individuals remaining. We are hopeful that the results of this workshop will help bring turtles onto the road to recovery.”

Some workshop highlights include country reports on the current status of turtle populations in different countries, an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Listing session on individual turtle species and Trade Status Reports. An open forum on conservation priorities will be held at the end of the workshop for participants to discuss interesting ‘what if’ scenarios.

Following this event is another workshop on the conservation of large river turtles (genus Batagur) from 25 February to 2 March in Singapore and Malaysia, which will address the threats to the survival of these species. It will comprise regional presentations, round table discussions, and field trips to share ‘best practices’ in the collection of pertinent life history data, and methods for reducing adult mortality.

WRS, which operates award-winning parks Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo and the upcoming river-themed attraction, River Safari, has consistently supported the conservation of turtles through various partnerships with international wildlife institutions.

On the local front, it partners with national agencies such as Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore and National Parks Board to rescue and rehabilitate turtles and tortoises. Last year, the Singapore Zoo worked with the Turtle Survival Alliance to relocate 36 endangered Indian star tortoises, which were confiscated here, to Fort Worth Zoo in Texas.

WRS also runs a successful captive breeding programme for critically endangered turtle species like the southern river terrapin, which has produced excellent results. Recently on 10 February, a southern river terrapin had hatched from its egg after a two-month incubation period. At least 12 more Batagur hatchlings are expected to emerge from their eggs in the next two to four weeks.

Visitors will get a chance to see some 17 species of tortoises and freshwater turtles from around the world at WRS’ fourth park, the River Safari. Due to open in the second half of 2012, the collection will include the critically endangered Southeast Asian narrow headed turtle, one of the largest freshwater turtles that can grow over 1.1m in length and 100kg in weight, as well as the big headed turtle from China. These turtles are known for their impressive climbing abilities, a trait that is unique amongst the species, which enables them to cross over rocky stream bottoms and against fast current.

Batagur hatchling at Singapore Zoo

WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE SIGNS MOU WITH WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY

TO COLLABORATE ON FIELD CONSERVATION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION TO PROTECT BIODIVERSITY IN THE FACE OF GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND HUMAN ENCROACHMENT

Singapore, January 29, 2010Wildlife Reserves Singapore Pte Ltd (WRS), the parent company of Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and Singapore Zoo, together with its recently established Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund (WRSCF) today signed an agreement to collaborate with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), based in New York, and Wildlife Conservation Society Singapore Limited (WCS Singapore) on field conservation and public education to protect biodiversity in the face of global climate change and human encroachment.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Ms Claire Chiang, Chairperson of both WRS and WRSCF; Mr Ward W Woods, Chair of WCS and Dr Steven E Sanderson, President and CEO of WCS and Chair of WCS Singapore, in the presence of President S R Nathan, Patron of WRSCF.

This MOU marks the start of a stronger commitment to protect biodiversity, not just in Singapore, but in Asia and around the world. Through the joint commission, representatives from all four parties will co-operate to undertake field conservation projects and share best practices and technical expertise contributing to wildlife conservation. They will also collaborate to promote public education and increase awareness on conservation issues.

“At WRS, an unprecedented level of effort has been invested to conserve and protect biodiversity. To strengthen our commitment, WRSCF was established last year, primarily to conserve endangered native wildlife. This MOU represents another important step forward in our ongoing commitment to preserve our ecosystems and precious wildlife species, many of which are already threatened and in dire need of protection,” said Ms Chiang.

Established in 1895, the Wildlife Conservation Society has built a strong global conservation network to become the world’s most comprehensive conservation organisation. WCS currently manages about 500 conservation projects in more than 60 countries and educates millions of visitors on important issues affecting our planet at the five parks they manage in New York City, including the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo.

“Our new partnership with Wildlife Reserves Singapore represents an important step for WCS and the conservation of wildlife in Asia,” said Mr Woods. “WRS’ conservation efforts and programmes have won worldwide acclaim. We look forward to spearheading new initiatives together and developing a regional centre of excellence for the protection of Asia’s most endangered wildlife.”

“We share WCS’ clear mission to save wildlife and wild places across the globe. That is why I am so proud to be part of this joint collaboration to bring our conservation programme to the global arena. This partnership will pave the way for future collaborations and open many doors for all four parties to work towards their shared goal of protecting global biodiversity,” added Ms Chiang.

With this MOU, the four parties will coordinate efforts on research methodologies and the exchange of multiple sources of knowledge, leading to action plans for conservation, education and key priorities for the management of biodiversity. Working in Asia since the early 20th century, WCS has partnered with national and regional governments, local communities and other scientific organisations to protect Asia’s incredible diversity of wildlife and wild places — to bolster environmental policy, train new generations of environmental stewards, support sustainable livelihoods, and connect protected areas. Some notable WCS projects include: working with the government of Cambodia to establish the Seima Protection Forest, created to protect wildlife and conserve carbon; and an ongoing effort to save tigers across Asia (WCS is committed to increasing tiger populations by 50 percent across 10 landscapes by 2016).

In the areas of conservation and research, WRS parks in Singapore have undertaken multiple projects, which focus on species such as the oriental pied hornbill, pangolin and orang utan, through collaborations with various organisations and institutions. Recent conservation efforts include hosting a regional Asian pangolin conservation workshop. All WRS parks are designated wildlife rescue centres by the governing authority.