Asian Geographic - - Front Page -

In­dus River

One of Asia’s largest rivers Flows through parts of In­dia and Pak­istan into the Ara­bian Sea Also pol­luted by un­treated mu­nic­i­pal and in­dus­trial waste­water

The lanky 35-year-old is right. As soon as they are low­ered into the wa­ter, the baby rep­tiles quickly scrab­ble out of her hands.

Chen’s cheer­ful­ness be­lies the chal­lenges she faces as the co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Tur­tle Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety of Malaysia. Es­tab­lished in 2011, the so­ci­ety pro­tects and stud­ies fresh­wa­ter tur­tles in Malaysia, in­clud­ing the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered south­ern river ter­rapin. In ad­di­tion to main­tain­ing a tur­tle hatch­ery and nurs­ery, it also or­gan­ises out­reach pro­grammes for schools and the pub­lic.

The south­ern river ter­rapin ( Batagur affi­nis) was once found through­out main­land South­east Asia and Su­mat­era by the thou­sands. Heavy ex­ploita­tion for its flesh and eggs, as well as habi­tat de­struc­tion and sand min­ing, have se­verely un­der­mined the sur­vival of this fresh­wa­ter species. It is es­ti­mated that as few as 500 adult ter­rap­ins re­main in the wild.

When Chen’s re­search un­cov­ered some 200 ter­rap­ins in the Ke­ma­man River, she col­lab­o­rated with the Depart­ment of Wildlife and Na­tional Parks, as well as peo­ple in the neigh­bour­ing vil­lages, to be­gin a re­search and con­ser­va­tion project.

Chen first be­gan her work in Pasir Ga­jah in 2011. Call­ing them­selves “Geng Tun­tung” (river ter­rapin guardians), five lo­cal men vol­un­teered to help, and they stopped eat­ing ter­rapin eggs. To­gether with Chen, the men camped at the river­bank at night to ob­serve ter­rapin nest­ing, and in­cu­bated the eggs be­side a vol­un­teer’s house. Aware of her out­sider sta­tus, Chen also took pains to min­gle with the lo­cals to gain their trust and sup­port. In 2017, the vil­lage com­mit­tee of­fered to build a gallery and nurs­ery for the so­ci­ety.

“I want to show the vil­lagers that as long as we have live ter­rap­ins, peo­ple will come, peo­ple will pay, and this can be self­sus­tain­ing,” says Chen. “My mo­ti­va­tion comes from peo­ple who buy pel­lets to feed the ter­rap­ins, who adopt the ter­rap­ins. When peo­ple see our work with school chil­dren and want to spon­sor a camp, they keep me go­ing.”

So far, Chen and her part­ners have saved more than 4,500 river ter­rapin eggs from hu­man con­sump­tion and re­leased more than 2,700 hatch­lings into the river. She was re­cently given the pres­ti­gious Com­mon­wealth Points of Light award for out­stand­ing in­di­vid­ual vol­un­teer work. ag

“I want to show the vil­lagers that as long as we have live ter­rap­ins, peo­ple will come, peo­ple will pay, and this can be self-sus­tain­ing”

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