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TSA in Terengganu to support freshwater turtle conservation

We hosted the visit of three Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) officials, including its President Rick Hudson during their 4-day visit to Kuala Terengganu from 3-6 September 2009 to draw up plans to support river terrapin conservation and to develop the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) in Penarik, Setiu. The other TSA team members were Bill Zeigler (Board member) and Lonnie McCaskill (member) while Pelf and I made up the TCC team. TCC’s co-founder, Tan Sri Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor had to cancel his plans to join us due to a bout of flu he was having.

It was an intensive trip that consisted of field visits to the Perhilitan Bukit Paloh Terrapin Conservation Centre, a cruise of the Setiu River, site visits to select a suitable location to build the TCC, an afternoon spent processing terrapins caught by fishermen, several discussions over physical facilities for the TCC, a meeting with En. Rozidan, the director of Perhilitan in Terengganu and meetings with Leonard Wee, a local architect and a session with Sean, journalist from the New Straits Times of Malaysia.

A proper breeding pond that ensures sufficient depth and water quality for river terrapins at the Bukit Paloh Center has been designed. The TSA will seek immediate funds for its construction in the very near future.  Another immediate need is to improve facilities for rearing river terrapin hatchlings at the centre. The current system of keeping them in small tubs in an indoor building is causing considerable mortality in the hatchlings.

We have selected a beautiful site in Penarik to build the TCC. The land faces the beach road and the South China Sea and is bordered by the Setiu River at the back. River terrapins nest on the sandbanks at the back of the site. We now have to work hard at acquiring the land.

Intensive discussions were held over physical facilities required by the TCC. Thirteen components to be built over several phases have been identified. Among these are an administration building, laboratory, staff quarters, visitor and student living quarters, education building, hatchery facility, breeding ponds, head-starting pond-sand a rescue facility.

We saw several basking terrapins during the river cruise, but failed to spot the false gharial. The presence of the latter in the Setiu River created a stir particularly since Bill is the Development Coordinator for the Gharial Conservation Alliance. This is an area that the TCC may venture into in future. The cruise also took us to the mouth of the Setiu River where we were able to ascend the beach and have a look at the WWF-managed painted terrapin beach hatchery.

Our visitors were obviously pleased at being able to see an adult painted terrapin, their first of the species to be seen as a wild adult. They saw us process seven river terrapins and one painted terrapin. I think they were pretty impressed with our records of captures of head-started river terrapins released in our program.  An added bonus was several sightings of terrapins in the Terengganu River from the 17th Floor of Felda Residence where we held our indoor discussions.

The TSA team was very pleased with what they had achieved in the few days spent in Terengganu and  have given the assurance that they will be back to continue with the process of upgrading facilities for river terrapins at the Perhilitan centre, and developing facilities for TCC.

The pictures below will provide an idea of the pace of the visit.

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