Smiley-Faced Turtle Brought Back From The Edge Of Extinction

Smile tho' your heart is aching: The Burmese roofed turtle is known for its distinctive smiley mouth, googly eyes, and upturned snout. Myo Min Win/WCS Myanmar Program

The Burmese roofed turtles, one of the world’s most endangered turtles and undoubtedly the most smiley reptile on the planet, has been brought back from the precipice of extinction. 

Researchers once feared this goofy-grinned species had slipped into extinction until a living specimen was bought in a Chinese wildlife market and came into the hands of an American turtle collector in the early 2000s. Following a huge conservation project in the turtles’ native Myanmar, researchers can now confirm the captive population is quickly approaching 1,000 turtles, meaning the species is in little danger of total extinction – that’s certainly something to smile about. 

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Turtle Survival Alliance have released a series of photos showing hatchling Burmese roofed turtles fresh out of their eggs at a secure breeding facility in Limpha Village of Myanmar’s Sagaing Region. The images accompany the first-ever scientific description of the species’ hatchlings, now published in the journal Zootaxa.

A handsome female of the species. Myo Min Win/WCS Myanmar Program

The Burmese roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata) is known for its distinctive smiley mouth, googly eyes, and upturned snout. The female of the species is a more muted color and significantly larger than the males, while the smaller males are light-colored, especially during mating season when they can show off some bright greenish-blue and yellow coloration.

Once abundant in the sleepy rivers of Myanmar, this herbivorous turtle suffered hugely at the hands of hunting and overexploitation of eggs. Unfortunately, the species is still facing an uncertain fate. While the species has seen hundreds of hatchlings in recent years, these have all been in captivity as part of breeding programs and the species is still desperately struggling in the wild. It’s thought there are just five or six females left in the wild and perhaps as little as two males. There are currently conservation efforts focusing on the remaining wild population and there’s also hopes to release some of these captive individuals back into the world. 

A plum-sized hatchling. Myo Min Win/WCS Myanmar Program

Beyond this single species, turtles and tortoises (scientifically known as chelonians) are in big trouble, facing one of the highest extinction risks of any sizable vertebrate group. Out of the 360 turtle and tortoise species currently recognized, more than half of them are considered “threatened with extinction”. The order of animals continues to face a range of problems that continually threaten to push some species into extinction, ranging from habitat disruption and pollution to the pet trade and poaching for food.

For an equally ridiculous-looking and endangered turtle, check out the Mary River turtle, an extremely rare species of turtle with a mohawk hairstyle and the unusual ability to breathe underwater through its genitals.

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