Conservation of the Southern River Terrapin Batagur affinis (Reptilia: Testudines: Geoemydidae) in Malaysia: a case study involving local community participation

Main Article Content

Pelf Nyok Chen


It is evident that the participation of the local community plays a crucial role in the success of a conservation project.  Despite initiating and leading the oldest Batagur affinis conservation project in Malaysia since 1967, which involved egg protection, head starting and reintroduction programs, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks did not involve the participation of the local community.  This study provides the first account of the involvement of local villagers in B. affinis research and conservation project in the Kemaman River, Terengganu, Malaysia.  As a result of involving this group of local villagers, the Village Development and Security Committee was recruited to be involved in the conservation project.  From 2012 to 2016, we hand captured and processed 102 post-nesting females.  The Schnabel mark-recapture method estimated at least 186 wild female B. affinis in the river.  We collected 2,542 B. affinis eggs from 205 nests for incubation, and produced 1,723 hatchlings (mean hatching success 67.8%).  Survivorship of head started B. affinis hatchlings in captivity ranged from 96.7−100 % among cohorts.  Head started hatchlings recorded a 467% increase in body mass and 90% increase in straight carapace length.  We reintroduced 1,690 B. affinis juveniles into the river.  We also initiated a symbolic adoption program to raise funds and ensure the sustainability of the conservation project.  This study proves that local communities are capable of managing their own resources, given sufficient training in conservation techniques. 

Article Details

Author Biography

Pelf Nyok Chen, Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia

Co-founder and Project Leader Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia


Adams, W.M. & D. Hulme (2001). If community conservation is the answer in Africa, what is the question? Oryx 35: 193–200;

Anonymous (2012). Floods in Terengganu claims six lives. The Star.

Anonymous (2015). Populasi tuntung di Kemaman diancam kepupusan - NGO. Electronic version accessed 1 November 2016.

Anthony, T., J.D. Riedle, M.B. East, B. Fillmore & D.B. Ligon (2015). Monitoring of a reintroduced population of juvenile alligator snapping turtles. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 14: 43–48;

Bell, C.D.L. & J. Parsons (2002). Cayman turtle farm head-starting project yields tangible success. Marine turtle newsletter 98: 5–6.

Bernstein, N.P. & J.L. Christiansen (2011). Response of a Yellow Mud Turtle (Kinosternon flavescens Agassiz) community to habitat change: management implications for a nature preserve. Natural Areas Journal 31: 414–419;

Bertolero, A. & D. Oro (2009). Conservation diagnosis of reintroducing Mediterranean pond turtles: what is wrong? Animal Conservation 12: 581–591.

Bird, K.E., W.J. Nichols & C. Tambiah (2003). The value of local knowledge in sea turtle conservation: a case from Baja California, Mexico. University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre Research Reports 11: 178–183.

Buhlmann, K.A., S.L. Koch, B.O. Butler, T.D. Tuberville, V.J. Palermo, B.A. Bastarache & Z.A. Cava (2015). Reintroduction and head-starting: tools for Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) conservation. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 10: 436–454.

Burke, R.L. (2015). Head-starting turtles: learning from experience. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 10(Symposium): 299–308.

Campbell, L.M. & A. Vainio-Mattila (2003). Participatory development and community-based conservation: opportunities missed for lessons learned? Human Ecology 31: 417–437.

Chan, E.H. & P.N. Chen (2010). Elevating survival prospects for critically endangered river terrapins of Terengganu through research, conservation, community participation, outreach and education. A Final Report submitted to the United States Fish and Wildlife Services, USA.

Chan, E.H. & P.N. Chen (2011). Nesting activity and clutch size of Batagur affinis edwardmolli from the Setiu River, Terengganu, Malaysia. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 10: 129–137.

Chen, P.N. (2008). Head-starting of river terrapins (Batagur baska): Feeding trials of hatchlings and juveniles. Master’s Thesis. Institute of Oceanography, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, 158pp.

Chen, P.N. & E.H. Chan (2014). High hatch rates in Malaysian river terrapin program are cause for optimism. Turtle Survival, USA.

Dodd, C.K.J. & R.A. Seigel (1991). Relocation, repatriation, and translocation of amphibians and reptiles: are they conservation strategies that work? Herpetologica 47: 336–350.

Dutton, P.H., C.P. Whitmore & N. Mrosovsky (1985). Masculinisation of leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea hatchlings from eggs incubated in styrofoam boxes. Biological Conservation 31: 249–264.

Ewen, J.G., P.S. Soorae & S. Canessa (2014). Reintroduction objectives, decisions and outcomes: global perspectives from the herpetofauna. Animal Conservation 17: 74­–81;

Frazer, N.B. (1992). Sea turtle conservation and halfway technology. Conservation Biology 6:179-184.

Garcia, A., G. Ceballos & R. Adaya (2003). Intensive beach management as an improved sea turtle conservation strategy in Mexico. Biological Conservation 111: 253–261.

Ghimire, S.K., D. McKey & Y. Aumeeruddy-Thomas (2004). Heterogeneity in ethnoecological knowledge and management of medicinal plants in the Himalayas of Nepal: implications for conservation. Ecology and Society 9: 6.

Granzow, E. (2008). Microchip placement for identification of birds. Lab

animal 37: 21.

Hamilton, R.J., T. Potuku & J.R. Montambault (2011). Community-based conservation results in the recovery of reef fish spawning aggregations in the Coral Triangle. Biological Conservation 144: 1850–1858;

Haskell, A., T.E. Graham, C.R. Griffin & J.B. Hestbeck (1996). Size related survival of headstarted redbelly turtles (Pseudemys rubriventris) in Massachusetts. Journal of Herpetology 30: 524–527.

Hellebuyck, T., F. Pasmans, A. Van Caelenberg, M. van Looy & A. Martel (2013). Assessing the use of microchip transponders as a marking method in juvenile Hermann’s Tortoises (Testudo hermanni). Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery 23: 32–36;

Heppell, S.S., L.B. Crowder & D.T. Crouse (1996). Models to evaluate headstarting as a management tool for long-lived turtles. Ecological Applications 5: 556–565. Proceedings of the Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) head-starting project in Southern New Jersey: 2004.

Horwich, R.H. & J. Lyon (2007). Community conservation: practitioners’ answer to critics. Oryx 41: 376–385.

Husin, S. (2016). Aktiviti korek pasir sungai ancam tuntung. Berita Harian

Kalyar, J. Thorbjarnarson & K. Thirakhupt (2007). An overview of the current population and conservation status of the Critically Endangered River Terrapin, Batagur baska (Gray, 1831) in Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. The Natural History Journal of Chulalongkorn University 7: 51–65.

Khan, M.K.M. (1964). A note on Batagur baska (the river terrapin or tuntung). Malayan Nature Journal 18: 184–186.

Krebs, C.J. (1989). Ecological methodology. Harper & Row, New York,

Lindburg, D.G. (1992). Are wildlife reintroductions worth the cost? Zoo Biology 11: 1–2.

Loch, J.H. (1950). Notes on the Perak River turtle. Malayan Nature Journal 5: 157–160.

Malaysia (2010). Profil Daerah Kemaman.

Mitrus, S. (2005). Headstarting in European Pond Turtles (Emys orbicularis): Does it work? Amphibia-Reptilia 26: 333–341.

Moll, D. & E.O. Moll (2004). The Ecology, Exploitation and Conservation of River Turtles. Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, USA, 393.

Moll, E.O. (1978). Drumming along the Perak. Natural History 87: 36–43.

Moll, E.O. (1980). Natural history of the River Terrapin, Batagur baska (Gray) in Malaysia (Testudines: Emydidae). Malaysian Journal of Science 6: 23–62.

Moll, E.O., S.G. Platt, E.H. Chan, B.D. Horne, K. Platt, P. Praschag, P.N. Chen & P.P. van Dijk (2015). Batagur affinis (Cantor 1847) - Southern River Terrapin, Tuntong. Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(8): 090.1–17; Electronic version accessed 4 January 2017.

Mrosovsky, N. (2008). Against oversimplifying the issues on relocating turtle eggs. Environmental management 41: 465–467.

Nichols, W.J., K.E. Bird & S. Garcia (2000). Community-based research and

its application to sea turtle conservation in Bahia Magdalena, BCS, Mexico. Marine turtle newsletter 89: 4–7.

Our Better World. (2015). Have you ever seen a terrapin smile? Electronic version accessed 1 November 2016.

Platt, K., S.G. Platt, K. Thirakhupt & T.R. Rainwater (2008). Recent Records and Conservation Status of the Critically Endangered Mangrove Terrapin, Batagur baska, in Myanmar. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 7: 261–265;

Platt, S.G., D. Hendrie, E.H. Chan, B. Poynter, K. Platt, H. Sovannara, R. Holloway, M.M. Khin, P.N. Chen & C.L. Soh (2006). Batagur baska: A Status Review and Conservation Action Plan.

Platt, S.G., B.L. Stuart, H. Sovannara, L. Kheng & H. Kimchhay (2003). Rediscovery of the critically endangered river terrapin, Batagur baska, in Cambodia, with notes on occurrence, reproduction, and conservation status. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 4: 691–694.

Praschag, P., A.K.Hundsdörfer & U. Fritz (2007). Phylogeny and taxonomy of endangered South and Southeast Asian freshwater turtles elucidated by mtDNA sequence variation (Testudines: Geoemydidae: Batagur, Callagur, Hardella, Kachuga, Pangshura). Zoologica Scripta 36: 429–442;

Praschag, P., R.S. Sommer, C. McCarthy, R. Gemel & U. Fritz (2008). Naming one of the world’s rarest chelonians, the southern Batagur. Zootaxa 1758: 61–68.

Pritchard, P.C.H. (1981). Criteria for scientific evaluation of head-starting. Marine turtle newsletter 19: 3–4.

Rahbek, C. (1993). Captive breeding - a useful tool in the preservation of biodiversity? Biodiversity and Conservation 2: 426–437.

Renner, M. & S. Lloyd (2000). Marking penguins with implanted transponders. Notornis 47: 163–165.

Seigel, R.A. & C.K.J. Dodd (2000). Manipulation of turtle populations of conservation: halfway technologies or viable options? pp. 218–238. In: Klemens, M.W. (eds.). Turtle Conservation. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Şekercioğlu, C.H. (2012). Promoting community-based bird monitoring in the tropics: Conservation, research, environmental education, capacity-building, and local incomes. Biological Conservation 151: 69–73;

Snyder, N.F.R., S.R. Derrickson, S.R. Beissinger, J.W. Wiley, T.B. Smith &

W.D. Toone (1996). Limitations of captive breeding in endangered species recovery. Conservation Biology 10: 338–348.

Soh, C.L. (2004). A study on distribution, movement and growth of captive-raised River Terrapin (Batagur baska) and Wild Painted Terrapin (Callagur borneoensis) in Setiu River. Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology. Faculty of Science and Technology, Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia, 70pp.

Strusaker, T.T., P.J. Strusaker & K.S. Siex (2005). Conserving Africa’s rain forests: problems in protected areas and possible solutions. Biological Conservation 123: 45–54.

Stuart, S.N. (1991). Reintroductions: to what extent are they needed? Symposia of the Zoological Society London 62: 27–37.

Turtle Conservation Coalition (2011). Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles - 2011. Lunenburg, MA: IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservation Fund, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and San Diego Zoo Global, 54pp.

Vieitas, C.F., G.G. Lopez & M.A. Marcovaldi (1999). Local community involvement in conservation - the use of mini guides in a programme for sea turtles in Brazil. Oryx 33: 127–131.

Waylen, K.A., A. Fischer, P.J.K. McGowan, S.J. Thirgood & E.J. Milner-Gulland (2010). Effect of local cultural context on the success of communityâ€based conservation interventions. Conservation Biology 24: 1119–1129;

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (1998). Using thermal ecology to predict retreat-site selection by an endangered snake species. Biological Conservation 86: 233–242.

Wiese, R.J., K. Willis & M. Hutchins (1996). Conservation breeding in 1995: an update. Trends in Ecological Evolution 10: 218–219.

Williams, P. (1993). NMFS to concentrate on measuring survivorship, fecundity of head-started Kemp’s ridleys in the wild. Marine turtle newsletter 63: 3–4.

Wood, F. & J. Wood (1993). Release and recapture of captive-reared green sea turtles, Chelonia mydas, in the waters surrounding the Cayman Islands. Herpetological journal 3: 84–89.

Wood, R.C. & R. Herlands (1997). Turtles and tires: The impact of roadkills on northern Diamondback Terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin terrapin, populations on the Cape May Peninsula, Southern New Jersey, USA. In: Abbema, V. (ed.). Proceedings of the Turtles and Tires: The Impact of Roadkills on Northern Conservation, Restoration and Management of Tortoises and Turtles - An International Conference. New York Turtle and Tortoise Society, New York, USA.

Yaacob, W.Z.W. (2015). Tuntung Makin Pupus. Utusan Malaysia, Timur, 26pp.

Yusof, S.A.M. (2016). Tuntung Sungai Kemaman: Disenarai 25 hidupan terancam di dunia. Kosmo! K2: 21–23.