This week, scientists in Brazil weren’t kidding when they said that they “hit the mother lode.”
They were referring to a mass hatching of an estimated 210,000 giant South American river turtles at the Abufari Biological Reserve. It’s one of the largest known hatchings for the species, Podocnemis expansa.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation were able to mark and release 15,000 of the hatchlings. The methodology is usually referred to as “mark and recapture,” and it will allow the researchers to estimate the size of the turtle’s population in the future.
Protecting Their Future
While the giant South American river turtle is currently considered “of least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species, it is still threatened by unregulated consumption of the turtles’ meat and eggs and may soon be listed as critically endangered. (Related: “World’s Largest Freshwater Turtle Nearly Extinct.”)
The turtles, which are the largest of the side-necked turtle family, are only found in the Amazon River Basin and can grow up to three feet long. Their lifespan can extend to over 20 years in the wild and they’re known for being more communal than other local turtles.
Their mass hatchings typically occur during the dry season along the river sandbanks of the Purus River Basin in western Brazil. Having such large numbers of hatchings is part of the animal’s evolutionary strategy—the bigger the group, the more it deters potential predators.
The researchers used a fence to contain the turtle hatchlings that emerged from pre-identified nests and marked them for future research. Camila Ferrara, an aquatic turtle specialist for the Wildlife Conservation Society Brazil program, hopes that the marked turtles will provide data that will help safeguard the turtles from extinction. (Related: “Hundreds of Rare Pig-Nosed Turtles Rescued at Airport.”)
“Turtles are among the most endangered species of vertebrates in the region and worldwide,” added Julie Kunen, the executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Latin America and the Caribbean program.
“Monitoring programs for these and other turtles and tortoises will provide a foundation for sound management plans in the years to come.”