A foundation engaged in conserving and protecting endemic and critically endangered Philippine birds and animals is calling for the creation of a sanctuary for newly discovered Philippine freshwater forest turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis).
Known also as Palawan turtle, Philippine forest turtle, Leyte or Palawan pond turtle, and bakoko, the turtle species is not endemic in the island of Leyte, where it got one of its names but rather a native to the Palawan island group.
Indira Dayang Lacerna-Widmann, chief operating officer of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI), said “Our foundation is seeking the support of our government officials to help create a sanctuary for these turtle species before its entire population is wiped out due to habitat loss and catching and illegal trading.”
The KFI suggested the creation of sanctuary in Barangay Dumarao in the town of Roxas in northern Palawan. “But first, we will check how the area naturally manages pest and diseases control, and if there are scavengers that might disturb the freshwater forest turtles,” she explained.
She added the sanctuary should be supported by a government-sponsored measure to provide the species to multiply and save it from possible extinction.
In April this year, 18 freshwater forest turtles were shipped back to the Philippines after they were confiscated with 60 other reptiles at the Hong Kong International Airport. They were reportedly part of a consignment discovered by authorities in Hong Kong in February.
The critically endangered turtle is the KFI’s flagship species under the Philippine Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program jointly implemented with the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Philippine CITES authorities, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).
Dr. Sabine Schoppe, director of KFI’s Philippine Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program said Palaweños “should be proud they have such a special species that aids in pest and diseases control.”
Sabine is one of the KFI representatives who excitedly received the turtles last April.
In 1920, it was American herpetologist Edward Harrison Taylor that first described the Philippine freshwater forest turtle to be Heosemys leytensis on the basis of two specimens reportedly gathered by Gregorio Lopez, who alleged he collected them from a swamp in Leyte. These however, were destroyed during World War II in the bombing of Manila.