Against the odds: freshwater turtle declines and conservation efforts in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste

Against the odds: freshwater turtle declines and conservation efforts in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 10:00

About the Presenter

Dr. Carla Eisemberg gained her Master’s degree from the National Institute for Amazon Research in Brazil and her PhD from the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra. She has been studying freshwater turtles for over 10 years in Amazônia, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. Her main interests are ecology, conservation and management of reptiles and amphibians, with emphasis on environmental education. Among her publications is the Gulf Province (PNG) best seller “The Adventures of Piggy in the Kikori Region”. She is currently a Research Associate at RIEL, Charles Darwin University.


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Effects of exploitation on long-lived, K-selected species are particularly insidious. Most long-lived species can sustain only limited adult mortality and may not recover rapidly enough from reductions in population densities to ensure their persistence. Additionally, overexploitation and reduced recruitment are often masked due to the presence of long-lived senescing adults. Long periods may pass before decline is detected and overcome. However, these same animals are important sources of protein and income for many traditional communities. This adds an extra layer of complexity when trying to achieve positive conservation and management outcomes in culturally diverse countries. The Pig-nosed Turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) in Papua New Guinea and the Timor Leste Long-necked Turtle (Chelodina mccordi timorlestensis) are two excellent examples of this conservation/exploitation dilemma and the challenges faced by wildlife managers in culturally diverse countries.

The Pig-nosed Turtle is of conservation concern because it has a very restricted global distribution and it is subjected to intense harvest pressure though much of its range. During the nesting season in the Gulf of Papua, eggs are harvested with efficiency close to 90%. The introduction of new technologies and increase of human population are cited as one of the main causes for the increase in the harvest pressure. The “Piku Project” was created in the Kikori region (PNG) owing to the urgent need to raise awareness and promote community action to reverse a severe population decline (57%) from 1980-82 to 2007-09.

The Long-necked turtle Chelodina mccordi is critically endangered under the IUCN red list criteria. The Timor-Leste subspecies (Chelodina mccordi timorlestensis) is restricted to a small area of lacustrine habitat near the eastern tip of Timor in the Lake Iralalaro district. Human harvest is the main threat in the area. Factors that may be reducing the capacity of this turtle to survive in the face of human harvest include habitat modification by buffalo and cattle and nest predation by pigs and dogs. The “Projetu Lenuk Lorosae” is a community based conservation project initiated in 2014 to study, protect and raise awareness about C. mccordi in Timor-Leste. During this talk, Dr. Eisemberg will discuss these conservation projects in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea.

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