Easter Egg Hunt Comes Early: Endangered Turtle Eggs Found

First Posted: Apr 11, 2017 05:54 AM EDT

The annual egg hunt of the Turtle Survival Alliance and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is so far a success this year. Each year, a team of scientists from both organizations go on an egg hunt for one of the rarest reptiles on the planet.

Less than five female Burmese roofed turtles remain in the wild today, which is why it is imperative that fertile eggs be found. It is a feat equal to winning the ultimate Easter egg hunt. Steven Platt, a herpetologist for the WCS Myanmar program, shared that this even is "a real nail biter," as they do not usually know whether or not the eggs are fertile or not. He told Seeker, "When we see the first sign of banding, it's an overwhelming relief. Everything depends on finding that handful of fertile eggs."

"Banding" is the chalky white blotch or stripe in the middle of the eggs, which forms when an embryo attaches itself to the inner wall of the shell. Eggs that have banding have been incredibly rare, with only a single viable egg found in 2014 and none in 2015. This year, so far, had been great. Platt and his colleagues discovered 44, which are already considered a baby boom, as far as these species are concerned.

Due to their rarity, the eggs have now been placed in an incubation site along the established sand bars along the Chindwin River in Myanmar, with fences surrounding the eggs and round-the-clock security from villagers living nearby. Once the hatchlings become adults, they will be released back to the river, where scientists hoped they will continue to grow and increase in population.

The Burmese roofed turtles (Batagur trivittata) were first listed as endangered by the IUCN in 1996. But with help from the locals, overharvesting of the eggs has dropped in an effort to raise their numbers. The species are expected to live very long lives, but their reproductive rates are very slow. This means that restoring their numbers in the wild could take many years of work.

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