The Arakan forest turtle (Scientific Name: Heosemys depressa) believed extinct, since last seen in 1908, discovered in 1994, reptile being sold in Asian food markets. In 2003, Arakan forest turtle recognized, one of the top 25 most endangered turtles. Turtle native of the Arakan hills of western Myanmar (Burma or Union of Burma), Southeast Asia.
The description of the Arakan forest turtle: The head is gray to brown, neck, limbs, tail, and skin is soft and appears yellowish — brown, while the large scales on the legs are nearly black. The top shell of the turtle (carapace) medium size is light brown, and some species exhibit black mottling or black border, and the shell edge is visibly serrated at the back. The lower shell of the turtle (plastron) is dark brown to black blotches or radiating streaks on each bony plate or scale of the carpace (scute). The claws are large and strong like roof tacks, with half — webbed toes on the forelimbs, and webbing on the hindlimbs. Their eyes are blacker than color of asphalt. Adult size Arakan forest turtle is the size of well — worn baseball glove.
In Asia, China and Thailand Arakan forest turtles hunted usually by trained dogs and limited burning bamboo forests to intercept and capture the fleeing turtles, demand for consumption and commercial export various Asian food markets. The shells are sold for traditional medicinal practices, besides the delicacy of the meat. Furthermore, the number of Arakan forest turtles endangered by logging operations for agriculture, forest clearance, road construction, bamboo harvesting for a proposed paper mill and uncontrolled forest fires.
Enacted in 1994, the Arakan forest turtle listed as a Protected Species in the Protection of Wildlife, Wild Plants, and Conservation of Natural Areas Law of Myanmar. Within the Arakan Yoma hill range, two large areas (Thanlwe-ma-e-chaung and Taungup Pass/Thandwe-chaung) proposed for official protection for the survival of the Arakan forest turtle. Furthermore, ensuring the conservation of the species, captive breeding and reintroduction programs are underway. There are twelve Arakan forest turtles, held captive in the United States (2007): Zoe Atlanta, the St. Louis Zoe, the Miami Metro Zoe, and River Banks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, South Carolina. During the past ten years, scientists studying Arakan turtles observed, feed on bananas, strawberries, romaine lettuce, earthworms, and newborn mice. In the wild, hunters observed the species eating vegetation, fruit, and mushrooms, constitute the bulk of their diet.
In May 2007, Atlanta Zoo researchers trying to save the endangered Asian species hatched a rare Arakan forest turtle. Zoo officials said the week old turtle is the fourth to be hatched in the past six years. Arakan turtles mate only once a year, and species eggs take 100 days to hatch. Upon birth, the dark-brown turtle is small enough lay on a serving spoon. Unfortunately, two hatchlings previously died but another egg is near hatching, as zookeepers observe. Expecting to hatch in about three weeks (Approximately from May 1, 2007). Currently, Atlanta Zoo is the only facility in the world, successfully breeding Arakan forest turtles. The zoo has paired matching turtles since 2001, when the Turtle Survival Alliance bought them from a Chinese food market. In The Atlanta zoo two – year old Arakan male turtle crawls about in an exhibit, and next-door neighbor an alligator snapping turtle.
Joseph Mendelson, curator of herpetology at the Atlanta zoo said: “For a species this close to extinction, it is simply not acceptable that they are being eaten.”
Peter Paul van Dijk, director of the tortoise and freshwater turtle program for Conservation International said: Though conservationists prefer to preserve endangered animals within their natural habitats, captive breeding programs act as “as insurance policies,” particularly with the demand for turtles in Asia. Also, Mr. van dijk said: “It’s really a tragedy to lose a species that took millions of years to evolve. It’s irreplaceable.”