Thursday, August 20, 2009

SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Amazon River Turtles

Before indiscriminate harvesting of eggs took its toll, the vast white sand beaches along the Amazon used to blacken when countless thousands of River Turtles (genus Podocnemis) crawled out to dig their nests. Four of the six species of River Turtle occur in the Amazon Basin, and one of them, the "Charapa" (P. expansa), is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. The Yellow-spotted River Turtle (P. unifilis) is one of the most attractive species and used to be much in demand for the pet trade.

All of these important and impressive turtles are facing extinction but a marvelous head-start program initiated by the late Pekka Soini in Peru's Pacaya-Samiria Reserve has really turned things around. GreenTracks' expedition trips into the Reserve help to provide funding for this and other programs that strive to ensure the future of all wildlife in the Amazon.

River turtles play an intrinsic role in the aquatic food chain and, with the exception of one small species, all are primarily vegetarians. Their massive egg laying parallels the sea turtles and like them their hatchlings are devoured by any number of predators. The problem for these magnificent creatures stems from the fact that their nesting beaches and nests and are so easy for humans to locate. Turtle eggs have been (and remain) a popular delicacy for the local population. With egg predation taking place at such a high level, it is remarkable that any of these turtles exist today. There are almost no places left where, as we observed in the 1970s, there seem to be more turtles than water in the river.

Like so many wildlife crises, this is a story of ignorance and greed, because River Turtles could be easily converted into a renewable resource via head-start programs and farming operations. If solid populations can be returned to the rivers there will be a positive effect on the fishing industry, which also is in decline in many areas owing to non-management. GreenTracks is pleased to help in this effort and we hope to introduce others via visits to the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.



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