Our Last Chance – Saving Endangered Red Bellied Turtle

Red bellied turtles have various sub sects but there is one common thread running through all of them. That is they are on the endangered list of wild life authorities and it is now the collective responsibility of all to ensure that they do not become extinct.

But first a word on these animals will be in order.

Plymouth Red Bellied Turtle – This is the first fresh water turtle to be put on the endangered list by the USA authorities, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This species was primarily observed in Plymouth County of Massachusetts. However, in an effort to conserve it the State initiated efforts to rear them in other friendly environments. In 1983, Massasoit National Wildlife Refuge was founded exclusively to preserve the red bellied turtles.

Northern Red Bellied Turtle – It is a comparatively large turtle measuring about 11 – 12 inches on the average. They are generally found today in a red bellied turtle colony in Massachusetts as well as parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. The Pennsylvania Fish Commission has put them on the endangered list in 1978 and it is also on the list of US Fish and Wildlife Service and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

There are a number of reasons why the population of these turtles have dropped drastically. The primary reason for this is polluted fresh water bodies. Large scale deforestation and global warming dries up wetlands that are breeding grounds for these turtles. Measures must be adopted towards protecting green cover, and tree removal in Melbourne or in the USA or for that matter anywhere in the world must be taken up very selectively.

Further, collection of these cute creatures as pets is quite common. Red bellied turtles are also subject to such predators as skunks, racoons, birds and fish as they eat the eggs and hatchlings. Such is the severity of the problem that the population of the Plymouth red bellied turtles had been reduced to a mere 200 to 300 by the 1980s. Reproduction had all but ceased and they were destined to be wiped away from the face of the earth.

However, timely conservation is what has saved these turtles and prolonged their existence. These measures are already paying dividends. For example, go back to 1985 and the Massasoit National Wildlife Refuge. There were no red bellies in the East Head Pond. Cut to 2015. Prolonged Head Start Programmes by conservation agencies saw around 40 red belly nests in the same East Head Pond. Small progress but definitely laudable!

Round the clock supervision is carried out at these conservation sites. A consultant carefully checks the prolific red belly pond twice a day during the nesting season and then places an anti predator cage over them. To ensure genetic diversity, two or three hatchlings are taken out from each clutch of 10-12 and placed in another nest.

It is good news for the red bellied turtle. In the 1980s, there was a last chance to save these species and due to the untiring efforts of conservationists, our next generation too will see red bellied turtles on planet earth.