- Ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises released into community-managed forest in Chattogram Hill Tracts, Bangladesh.
- Release represents first-ever rewilding of a Critically Endangered tortoise species in the country.
- Post-release animal movement and survival monitoring will be performed by reformed hunters from indigenous communities trained as parabiologists (field technicians)
- Release will serve as a model for reintroducing other species of turtle and tortoise to community-managed forests in Bangladesh.
Ten captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises have been released to the Chittagong Hill Tracts for rewilding.
The announcement was made today by Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD), and Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) with support from Bandarban Hill District Council and the local communities, said a press release.
"This release epitomises why we created the Turtle Conservation Center and why we work diligently to create meaningful and lasting relationships with indigenous communities of the Chattogram Hill Tracts," said Shahriar Rahman, CCA and TSA.
"It exemplifies the value of public-private collaborations, and illustrates the use of conservation breeding as a tool to restore populations of native animals in the wild," he added.
On Saturday (18 December), members of the BFD, CCA, and a hill tract community released ten juvenile Asian Giant tortoises into a 200-hectare community-managed forest located in the Matamuhuri Reserve Forest, Bandarban Hill District.
According to the press release, the tortoises, all two and a half years old, represent the first attempt to rewild this critically endangered species in Bangladesh.
The tortoises hatched in 2019 at the Tortoise Conservation Centre in Bhawal National Park and are offspring of parents seized from or surrendered by individuals who poached them from the wild for food.
"This is a really big first step toward realising TSA's goal of returning Asian Giant Tortoises to the landscape," said Rick Hudson, president of TSA.
The event was attended by a representative of the Chief Conservator of Forests of the Bangladesh Forest Department as well as a member of the Bandarban Hill District Council, representing Kyaw Shwe Hla, chairman of Bandarban Hill District Council.
To prepare the tortoises for release, health assessments and disease screenings were conducted in collaboration with Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI), Savar. Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) was conducted and permission was obtained by the village chief to release the tortoises in the area. To ensure their protection and habitat, a Village Conservation Committee (VCC) was formed.
Post-release animal movement and survival monitoring will be performed by reformed hunters trained as parabiologists (field technicians) from local communities of Matamuhuri Reserve Forest.
Each tortoise is fitted with a transmitter and will be monitored by the parabiologists using radio telemetry equipment. Data from this effort will guide conservation and repatriation measures for future rewilding efforts and will help validate the efficacy of conservation breeding and release as a tool in restoring populations of native turtles and tortoises.
The Asian Giant Tortoise is the largest tortoise among the oldest lineages in Asia, growing up to 61 cm (24 in) in shell length and weighing up to 35 kg. Native to tropical and subtropical hill forests of Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand, the tortoise is considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In Bangladesh, it was once found throughout the Chattogram Hill Tracts but has disappeared. Today, they are considered to be functionally extinct in the area.