Poaching of Freshwater Turtle Seriously Impact on Endangered Species

Poaching of freshwater turtles to supply the food market has produced serious impact on endangered species. About a week ago, some carapace of Painted Terrapin (Batagur borneoensis) and hundreds of Cuora amboinensis carapace found in a poacher in Province of Kalimantan Tengah. This province is habitat for B. borneoensis, O. borneensis, B. affinis, C. amboinensis.

freshwater turtle carapace, included Painted Terrapin, for sell
freshwater turtle carapace, included Painted Terrapin, for sell (photo: WenDrakula)

According to an information, the poacher said that these carapaces are for sell, but he did not know what would be used for,may be for traditional medicine purpose. These carapaces are the rest of the individuals that had been killed for their meat. Then the meat was supplied to the consumer market.

The collectors claimed that they did not aware that some of these turtles are Painted Terrapin, a species  that facing extinction globally. They assumed that all are a same species – Malayan Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis). Cuora amboinensis is a species that permitted and has quota for sell, weather for pet or food.

This is an evidence that a lack of poacher’s knowledge has produced serious troubles to survival of population of endangered freshwater turtle. Therefore, a possibility that female of B. borneoensis and other endangered species such as O. borneensis were also killed in the past are extensive due to the poachers could not identify the species and their sex correctly.


Cyclemys oldhami

Cyclemys oldhamii
Cyclemys oldhami (photo: jokoguntoro)

Oldham turtle (Cyclemys oldhami) or Kura-kura Oldham is a medium sized turtle, that can grow up to 15 – 24cm. Very similar to Cyclemys dentata. They have webbed feet and are highly aquatic, especially as juveniles, however, they tend to become more terrestrial as they get older with adults spending more time on land. This species is omnivorous, feeds on fruit, carrion, fish and crustaceans. 7 to 10 eggs laid up to 3 times per year.

carapace of C. oldhami (photo: satucita foundation)
carapace of C. oldhami (photo: satucita foundation)

Inhabit streams in mountain forests. Their geographic range extends from Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java. They are also found on a few Indonesian islands (Borneo, Bali, Java and Sumatra). It is uncertain whether or not their range extends into China. In IUCN they listed as Near Threathened.

plastron of C. oldhami (photo: satucita foundation)
plastron of C.oldhami (photo: satucita foundation)

Forest softshell turtle

Forest Soft-shell Turtle (Dogania subplana) or Labi-labi hutan or Bulus hutan (local name in Indonesia), is an elusive species of clear, fast-flowing streams and quiet muddy backwaters. Lying partly submerged in the substrate, the distinctive patterning helps in its camouflage. However, the pairs of eyespots or ocelli on the carapace tend to stand out.

Asian soft-shell turtle (Dogania subplana) (photo: satucita foundation)
Asian soft-shell turtle (Dogania subplana) (photo: satucita foundation)

The neck is long : the upper surface bears longitudinal stripes and the underside is orange in colour. The head is relatively large and the nose tubular in shape, contributing to its charming appearance. The forefeet are greenish.

carapace of D.subplana
carapace of D.subplana (photo: satucita foundation)

The species ranges from Kalimantan, Sumatra, the Natuna Islands, Java. Can grow up to carapace length about 35 cm. Local people often eat this species. This species is listed in IUCN as Least Concern.

Asian forest tortoises

This largest tortoise is believed to be among the most primitive of living tortoises, based on molecular and morphological studies. This is the only tortoise which lays its eggs above ground in a nest, which the female constructs of leaf litter. The female uses both front and rear legs to gather material for the nest and lays up to 50 eggs deep inside it. She then sits on and near the nest to protect it, and will ‘chase’ predators and intruders away. This largest tortoises consist of two subspecies:

  • Manouria emys phayrei: N/W Thailand to NE India; Type locality: Arakan; Tenasserim Provinces’. M. e. phayrei has been named after Sir Arthur Purves Phayre (1812–1885), British officer in India who became Commissioner of British Burma.
  • Manouria emys emys: S Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo; Type locality: Sumatra. M. e. emys has separated pectoral scutes while M. e. phayrei has joined pectoral scutes.

asian forest tortoises

In Indonesia they are spread in the forest hills, paticularly in Sumatra Island. Some people collect from the wild to sell this tortoises. Even, some local people eat this tortoises to be a kind of desert when they drink alcohol. They are also facing losing habitat due to the conversion of forest to be palm plantation and development.

The largest tortoise in mainland Asia; large adult of the northern subspecies, M.e. phayrei, can reach 25 kg in the wild and much more than that in captivity. Shell considerably depressed, its depth not half its length; anterior and posterior margins reverted, more or less strongly serrated; nuchal present; supracaudal shields two; dorsal shields concentrically striated, often concave; vertebrals much broader than long and at least as broad as costals.


Plastron large, gular region somewhat produced and usually notched, hind lobe deeply notched; the pectoral shields may be widely separated from each other, or from a short median suture; axillary shield very small, inguinal large. Head moderate; two large prefrontal shields and a large frontal; beak not hooked; jaws feebly denticulated, the alveolar surface of the upper jaw with a strong median ridge.

Fore limb anteriorly with very large, bony, pointed, imbricate tubercles, forming four or five longitudinal series; hind limb with very large bony tubercles on the plantar surface, with others larger, conical, and spur-like on the heel, and a group of still larger conical tubercles on each side on the back of the thighs. Adult dark brown or blackish; carapace of young yellowish brown, with dark-brown markings.

Chinese soft-shell turtle

Labi-labi china (local name) or Chinese soft-shell (Pelodiscus sinensis) turtle has a oval carapace without scutes. It is smooth and leathery in adults, while juveniles have rows of small bumps along the back. The plastron in adults is cream, grey or yellow with no patterns, while juveniles have pinkish-red plastrons with black blotches. The body is olive to greyish-green and are unpatterned in adults, with light spots and fine radiating black lines around the eyes in juveniles. It grows to 25 cm long.

Pelodiscus sinensis (photo: satucita foundation)
Pelodiscus sinensis (photo: satucita foundation)

This freshwater turtle is non native to Indonesia. Spread to Indonesia estimated about 1970 when imported to meet the local demand for consumption. High demand make local businnes owner tried to breed it. But, due to the decreasing in local demand make this was lost profit and could not continue. Then, the business could not manage the ponds (in hectares). Thousands individuals of this species spread to rivers in City of Medan and now spread anywhere become invasive.

carapace of Pelodiscus sinensis (photo: satucita foundation)
carapace of Pelodiscus sinensis (photo: satucita foundation)

The Chinese Softshell Turtle inhabits freshwater habitats including ponds, marshes and rivers. It usually stays buried in the substrate to ambush its prey and is rarely seen basking. It feeds on small invertebrates including mussels and insects. Oviparous; clutches comprise of 9–28 eggs and incubation takes about 40–80 days.

plastron of Pelodiscus sinensis (photo: satucita foundation)
plastron of Pelodiscus sinensis (photo: satucita foundation)

This softshell turtle is non native for Indonesia and considered as invasive species. IUCN: Vulnerable

Chelodina mccordi

Kura-kura leher ular kepulauan rote is a name to call this freshwater turtle species in Bahasa Indonesia. It belongs to the genus Chelodina (Australian snake-necked turtles) within the family of Side-necked turtles (Chelidae). Roti Island snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi) is an extremely threatened turtle species from Rote Island south west of Timor and north of Australia.

Chelodina mccordi (photo: CITES)

The carapace can reach a length between 18 and 24 centimetres. The length of the neck is similar. The color of the carapace is pale grey brown. Occasionally there are also specimens which have a chestnut coloured hue. The plastron is pale buff white. The neck is dark brown on the upperparts with round tubercles. The underparts are beige white. The iris is black surrounded by a white ring. Its habitat are swamps, rice terraces, and small lakes.

English: Roti Island Snake-necked Turtle (Chel...

This freshwater turtle was split from the New Guinea snake-necked turtle and regarded as distinct species in 1994 after Dr. Anders Rhodin, director of the Chelonian Research Foundation in Lunenburg (Massachusetts), found out that there are differences between the two species. The first snake-necked turtles on Roti Island were discovered in 1891 by George Albert Boulenger. They were named for Dr. William McCord, a veterinary and turtle expert from Hopewell Junction, New York.

Chelodina mccordi (photo:http://alioting.blogspot.com)
Chelodina mccordi (photo:http://alioting.blogspot.com)

A clutch can consist of 8 to 14 and it can have three breeding periods in one year. The size of the eggs is 30 x 20 mm and the weight can reach eight to ten grams. The first hatchlings come after three months, the last after four months. When they hatch they have a size of 28 x 20 mm and they have yellow spots on the plastron which become darker with the time until the plastron becomes almost black after a few weeks. During the growing period the coloring becomes more pale until they finally reach the color of the adults.



IUCN Red List



Southern river terrapin

Tuntung sungai is Indonesian name for this species. The southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis) is a turtle of the Batagur family found in Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. This species is protected in Indonesia. Spread in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Very rare to find in the wild, even in collectors. A survey in east cost Sumatra could not find the specimen, although local people can identify this species. They have four claw. Nesting season is estimated February to April in Indonesia.

Batagur affinis in Malaysia (photo: Eng Heng Chan)

Many Asian turtles are in danger because of the thriving trade in animals in the region, where a species’ rarity can add to its value on a menu or as a traditional medicine. An effort to find the colony and conserve this species is on progress by Satucita Foundation.

batagur affinis
Batagur affinis







Asiatic softshell turtle

Bulus is indonesian name to call Asian Softshell Turtle aka “Asiatic Soft-shell Turtle” (Amyda cartilaginea). It’s shell can growth up to 83 cm long.

juvenile Amyda cartilaginea (photo:www.flickr.com)

It’s head and neck are long, and the mouth is narrow and tubular. The head is dark with yellow spots and splotches. Shell is olive or brown to black with tan and yellow spots. Underside of shell is white or pale grey. A very large turtle with a broad flat shell. It’s shell has a soft, leathery appearance. The front edge of the shell has a series of bumps, which help to distinguish it from other softshell turtles in the region.

As like as sSoftshell turtles have a range of adaptations that give them a quite different appearance than other turtles. Their soft, flat shell is lighter and more streamlined so they can chase their prey through the water. The flat shell also allows them to bury easily in the mud. The long neck and narrow head can move quickly to grab prey in the water, as well as reach up to breathe while exposing none of the body. And the wide, flat feet act like paddles to propel them through the water.

juvenile Amyda cartilaginea (photo:www.britishchelonia.org.uk)

Amyda cartilaginea can be found in streams, rivers, lakes, swamps, canals, and park ponds. Prefers waterways with muddy substrate. They eat almost anything, including fish, frogs, crabs, shrimp, insects, aquatic vegetation, and carrion. Their young and eggs provide food for water monitors.

This turtle has a large head that can give a painful bite, but will not do any real damage. This Asian Softshell Turtle is often caught for food and for traditional Chinese medicine. It is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List and is on CITES Appendix II.

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Asian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis)

The South Asian box or Malayan Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis) turtle gets its name from the ability to box itself up completely within its shell. This is due to the hinged lower shell, which, like other box turtles, can be folded up when the head is withdrawn, securely protecting the animal from any predators. It can grow to over 20 centimetres in length which makes it the largest of the Asian box turtles, which all belong to the genus Cuora. The highly domed upper shell, or carapace, is dark olive or black, whilst the lower shell, or plastron, is yellow to light brown, with large dark-brown or black patches toward the outside of each scute. The smallish head is olive to dark brown on top, yellow to olive underneath, with three distinctive black stripes running along the side of the head, from the nostrils to the neck. It has a protruding snout and slightly hooked upper jaw. The limbs are olive to black and large scales cover the front of the forelimbs. Males can be distinguished from females by their longer, thicker tails, and their slightly smaller size. Can grow up to length carapace: up to 21.6 cm.

Cuora amboinensis (photo: joko guntoro)
Cuora amboinensis (photo: joko guntoro)

The South Asian keeled box turtle is primarily nocturnal and spends most of its day hiding under piles of leaf litter along banks of streams. It feeds on a wide variety of foods, mainly aquatic plants, but also molluscs and crustaceans, and fallen fruits, fungi and soft invertebrates, such as worms and slugs, when on land. Turtles play a central role in their ecosystem food chain, through predation, and as prey for other forest animals.

carapace of Cuora amboinensis (photo: joko guntoro)
carapace of Cuora amboinensis (photo: joko guntoro)

They have been observed performing interesting courtship behaviour, whereby the male and female face each other, and with outstretched necks they move their heads in the shape of an infinity symbol. However, the male has also been observed being very aggressive during courtship, chasing the female and biting her on the neck. Sometimes males attempt to mate with each other, which results in violent fights. The nesting seasons are in January to February, and April, during which time around two to three brittle, white eggs are laid. After 67 to 77 days of incubation, tiny hatchlings appear, only up to 5 centimetres long, and contrary to adults which spend as much time on land as they do in the water, juveniles are entirely aquatic. In many Cuora species, the survival rate of hatchlings is reported to be very low, as hatchlings, as well as eggs, are an important food source for monitor lizards, herons and some small mammals. This is likely to contribute to the low reproductive rate of box turtles. They reach sexual maturity after four to five years and have a life expectancy of between 25 and 30 years.

plastron of C. amboinensis (photo: jko guntoro)
plastron of C. amboinensis (photo: jko guntoro)

There are four known subspecies of the South Asian box turtle; Cuora amboinensis amboinensis can be found in Indonesia and the Philippines, C. a. kamaroma occurs in eastern India, the Andaman Islands, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Borneo, C. a. couro lives on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, Thailand, Singapore, southern Myanmar, China and Cambodia, and C. a. lineata occurs in north-eastern Myanmar. (info sources: http://www.arkive.org/south-asian-box-turtle/cuora-amboinensis/)

IUCN: Vulnerable  ; CITES: Appendix II

All pictures are by Joko Guntoro

Spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa)

Heosemys spinosa is a very distinctive turtle. It has a sharp point on each marginal scute of the carapace and several more along the keel. There are smaller spines on the pleural scutes, creating the effect of a walking pin cushion. Adults may lose of the spines along the keel and pleural scutes. The carapace is brown with a lighter stripe down the center. The underside of the marginals and the plastron are buff colored with dark radiating stripes on each scute. The head may be brown or gray with a yellow spot on each side. The legs are gray with yellow speckling. The feet are slightly webbed. A medium sized turtle, the spiny turtle is about 9 inches long in adulthood. The spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa) inhabits lowland and hill rainforest, usually in the vicinity of small streams, mainly in hill areas up to 900 m.

The spiny turtle is known from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

IUCN: Endangered; CITES: Appendix II

photo: joko guntoro

Heosemys_spinosa_joko guntoro
Heosemys_spinosa_joko guntoro
carapace of Heosemys spinosa (photo: joko guntoro)
carapace of Heosemys spinosa (photo: joko guntoro)
plastron of H.spinosa (photo: joko guntoro)
plastron of H.spinosa (photo: joko guntoro)