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Turtles from the Sam Poh Tong Temple Given a New Home

This article was written by Chan Eng Heng. It will also appear in the website of the Sam Poh Tong Temple.

When my friend Doris, a most compassionate Buddhist contacted me in December of 2010 to help find a new home for the 100 odd turtles kept in a concrete pond in the Sam  Poh Tong Temple in Ampang, I had wholeheartedly agreed to help. At that time, I had no idea where those turtles could be relocated to.

My reasons for wanting to help were manifold. I love turtles and I will do all I can to help save them and to enable them to lead a natural, healthy and happy life.

Turtles are wild animals that require natural but specific habitats so that they can forage for food, mate and reproduce.  Some turtles live in the water while some are terrestrial, meaning they live on land. There are also some that are semi-aquatic.  If you force a terrestrial turtle into a concrete pond with no chance of escape, the turtle will ultimately die, and vice versa.  All turtles, be they aquatic or terrestrial, lay their eggs on land where soil or sand provide the correct conditions for the eggs to develop.

When turtles are kept in small concrete ponds, they live in very hard and artificial conditions.  They suffer but have no voice to complain about the life-long imprisonment they have been forced into.  Frequently they are fed the wrong kinds of food and suffer from malnutrition that is manifested in deformities in the shell (calcium deficiency) and other parts of the body. Calcium deficiency also results in eggs with thin or poorly formed eggshells. Such eggs will not be viable.

Some species of turtles are herbivorous (i.e they eat vegetable matter), some are carnivorous (meat-eating) while others are omnivorous (eating a mixture of plants and animals).  It is important to find out the feeding habits of turtles that are kept in captivity in order to provide them with the right kinds of food.

Turtles, like many other wild animals, are endangered. They have been exploited by mankind for many decades to the extent that many species are now in danger of extinction. The major threat facing the non-marine species of turtles today is illegal trade. There is a huge demand for them especially in China where the turtles fetch a high price and are sought after as a culinary delicacy and for their medicinal value. To fuel this demand, poachers have mined the natural habitats of turtles in Asia and smuggled tens of thousands of turtles to China. A local demand exists as well where the turtles are caught and delivered to dealers or direct to restaurants for consumption.  There is also a significant demand for these turtles for the pet industry.

A good proportion of the turtles are caught and sold to Buddhists for “fangsheng” or life liberation.  However, the noble value in this practice is lost in modern times and has unwittingly caused hardship and certain death to many species of animals that are released.  Let me elaborate:

The popularity and in some cases, institutionalized and regular practice of “fangsheng” has created a huge demand for animals to be released.  To meet this demand, many species of animals are captured, kept in crowded conditions by wholesalers, then sent to retailers who sell the animals to individual Buddhists or Buddhist organizations.  Many of the captured animals die before they are due for release and often those that survive and are ultimately released are recaptured by the traders.  The animals are frequently released into habitats that are unnatural or unsuitable for the animal’s well-being and needs.  Therefore, instead of being kind to the animals, this practice of “fangsheng” has brought hardship to them, and in many cases, certain death.

Apart from the well-being of the animals released, the health of humans involved in the release is also at risk. Animals, especially birds can transmit diseases such as avian flu to humans. One can imagine how easily the virus can spread from one region to another when birds are captured for release from distant regions.

Unknown to most laymen, “fangsheng” has been responsible for the introduction of invasive or non-native species to local habitats. If the local habitat is unsuitable, the animal released will not survive. However, the introduced species can adapt to the local environmental conditions,  become very successful and possess the potential to wipe out local species. Introduced species also introduce pathogens to local species.

Another consideration is the legality of buying and possessing of animals for release.   Most of our country’s turtles are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act that came into effect in 2010. If caught in possession of the animals without a permit, a hefty fine, or jail term or both may be imposed.

Coming back to the story of the Sam Poh Tong Temple turtles, a preliminary visit confirmed the presence of four species of turtles, one of which was a non-native species.  There was one Malaysian Giant Turtle, three Black Marsh Turtles, 56 Asian Box Turtles and 48 Red-Eared Sliders, the non-native species, giving a grand total of 108 individual turtles kept in the concrete pond. As the pond was shallow the small quantity of water heated up quickly in the hot weather and most times, the turtles crawled out to seek refuge under some zinc sheets.

The most tricky part was finding a suitable place to house the turtles. The non-native ones have to be confined so that they do not escape into the wild under any circumstance.  The search was good for me as I ended up reconnecting with an organic farmer friend, Dr. Ng Poh Kok   whom I had more or less lost touch with.  I also worked with Loretta Shepherd who invited Drs Reuben Sharma and Sumita Sugnaseelan (vets who are also a veterinary science lecturers at Universiti Putra Malaysia) to assess the health condition of the turtles prior to release.  The health assessment was particularly valuable, not only for the obvious benefit of the turtles, but it was a hands-on experience for 27 veterinary students and 4 volunteers who assisted in the 6-hour long operation.

After many discussions and visits to Dr. Ng’s Organic Park in Batu Arang and the Bentong Farm Sanctuary (BFS) in Pahang, it was decided that the native species will be released into Dr. Ng’s park while the non-native species, the red-eared sliders would go to the BFS.

We had to build a concrete fence around the large pond in the organic park to prevent the turtles from escaping into Dr. Ng’s organic vegetable plots.  This was a costly and time consuming task, but thanks to Dr Ng’s workers and funds donated by the Sam Poh Tong Temple, Lim Puay Aun, Chan Kean Eng and Chan Eng Heng, the fence was completed in time for the release that took place on May 1st, 2011.

The release was a most joyous event shared by about 30 people, most of whom were devout Buddhists.  Two weeks later, on the 15th of May 2011, Loretta and five volunteers released the non-native species, i.e. the red-eared sliders into a spacious pond the Bentong Farm Sanctuary.  Simple basking platforms will need to be added to this pond to make it more suitable for the turtles.

The photographs provided capture some of the memorable moments of this meaningful relocation of the temple turtles to ponds and habitats that are more natural and suited to their needs.


I would like to thank Reverend Sing Kan, Dr. Ng Poh Kok, Bentong Farm Sanctuary, Loretta Shepherd, Brother How, Doris, Lim Puay Aun, Chen Pelf Nyok, Chan Kean Eng, Dr Reuben Sharma, Dr Sumita Sugnaseelan, Universiti Putra Malaysia veterinary students, Chi Too, Shahrul Anum Baharin, Chris R. Shepherd, Olivier Caillabet, Suzalinur Manja Bidin, Kaitlyn Foley, Nurul Bariyah and Mohd. Azizi for their help and collaboration in making a success of the relocation exercise.

Photo credits : Chan Eng Heng, Lim Puay Aun, Loretta Shepherd .



Terrapin release at Kg. Pasir Gajah, Kemaman

In February this year, we initiated a river terrapin conservation program in the Kemaman River, with the cooperation from three local communities and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN). One of the local communities that were involved in the conservation program is the JKKK (Village Committee) of Kg. Pasir Gajah.

As a result of the egg protection program, a total of 420 eggs from 24 clutches were incubated and 198 hatchlings were produced. The hatching success was recorded at 47%. More than half of the river terrapin hatchlings that had emerged were released into the Kemaman River on the 21st May in a small ceremony.

Note: The above pictures were taken during the release on the 21st May 2011.

Come Friday, the 7th October 2011, the remaining 84 river terrapins will be released.

As part of our fund-raising efforts, we are pleased to put these 84 river terrapins up for adoption. Each adoption costs RM 100, and you will be furnished with a Certificate of Adoption with the particular terrapin’s microchip number, weight and measurements at release. Yes, you may also attend the event without adopting a river terrapin :D (But why won’t you?)

Following are two maps, in case you’d need directions to get to the release site at Kg. Pasir Gajah :D A few canopies will be put up at the release site very near the Kemaman River. The coordinates of the release site is: 4° 14′ 15.93″ N, 103° 17′ 27.10″ E

View Larger Map

Directions to the terrapin release site at Kg. Pasir Gajah, Kemaman

Would you like to adopt a river terrapin? Or do you need more information? Write to us at cp@turtleconservationcentre.org and we will furnish you with the Terrapin Adoption Form :D

P/S: The river terrapin release event will be held on Friday, because that’s the only time the Guest of Honour (DUN Air Putih, YB Hj. Wan Abdul Hakim b. Wan Mokhtar) is available.

Notice boards installed on major terrapin nesting banks

The new Wildlife Protection Bill 2010 had come into effect in December 2010, and under the new bill, 17 out of the 18 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises in Malaysia are classified as “Protected” whereas the river terrapin, Batagur affinis, is classified as “Totally Protected.”

In line with the new legislation, Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) submitted a proposal to The State Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) to protect the major terrapin nesting banks along the Kemaman and Setiu Rivers. The State Perhilitan supported our proposal, and the State Perhilitan Director had agreed to erect notice boards on the proposed nesting sites.

A total of six notice boards have been installed on the major nesting banks along the two rivers, i.e. three in the Setiu River, and three in the Kemaman River. The notice boards were installed in “strategic” locations to ensure that they are visible to the local villagers and egg collectors.

We are aware that the local villagers will not be deterred by the notice boards installed by the Perhilitan officers, and as such, dialogue sessions between Perhilitan and the local folks in the villages will be held at the end of the year, before the 2012 nesting season begins. These dialogue sessions will serve to inform the local folks of the new legislation and their corresponding penalties.

Terrapin release in conjunction with Karnival Emping

In February 2011, a river terrapin conservation project was initiated in three villages along the Kemaman River, one of which was Kg. Dadong. It was a joint-project between the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) and the respective Village Committees.

In Kg. Dadong, a total of 10 eggs were collected from the nesting bank and the eggs were incubated in a styrofoam box. Out of the 10 eggs that were incubated, eight river terrapin hatchlings successfully hatched, whereas the remaining two eggs were not fertilized.

Upon emergence, the average weight of a river terrapin hatchling was 67 g, whereas the average straight carapace length (SCL) and straight carapace width (SCW) were 6.9 cm and 6.8 cm, respectively.

The Village Headman, En. Wan Mamat b. Wan Ismail, has been raising the eight hatchlings for seven weeks before they were released in conjunction with Karnival Emping (harvest festival) which was held at the village on the 29th July 2011. At the time of release, the hatchlings had an average weight of 127 g, and average length and width of 9.2 cm and 8.8 cm, respectively.

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek graced the release event, which was also attended by Kg. Dadong Headman, En. Wan Mamat himself, and the Head of the Perhilitan office in Kemaman, En. Azuan Alias. I also had the opportunity to inform Datuk about the river terrapin projects that TCC carries out in the Kemaman River. Datuk was very happy with the river terrapin conservation project, and suggested that the project be adopted by Kg. Dadong, continued and intensified in the future. Thank you Datuk, for your support!

Photos #2, #3 and #4 were taken by Wee Seng Whatt.

Visits from school groups

In the past month or so, two school groups had visited the Mini Turtle Museum in Kg. Mangkok.

On 28th May, some 38 students of the South Australian Matriculation program and 2 accompanying teachers from Taylor’s College organized a trip to Setiu, and included in their itinerary was a visit to the Mini Turtle Museum. The main objective of the visit from Taylor’s College was to foster a greater urban-rural youth interaction as well as to expose the students to in-situ conservation efforts carried out on the grassroots level.

On 9th June, we had the pleasure of entertaining a group of 84 Form 6 students (also members of the Pre-U Club) and 5 accompanying teachers from S.K. Tengku Bariah, Kuala Terengganu. These pre-u students wanted to perform a social service and they decided to do a beach clean up. Hence the group traveled in 2 buses to Kg. Mangkok to carry out a beach clean up activity as well as to learn more about sea turtles and terrapins of Malaysia, and the threats that they face. The pictures below show how much the students enjoyed the trip :D

Pictures 1-3 courtesy of Mrs. Kalpana Das Sawdesh Ranjan Dash of Taylor’s College.
Pictures 4-9 courtesy of Madam Mok Mee Yoke of S.K. Tengku Bariah.

Saat bersejarah di Sungai Kemaman

Note: Read the English version of this post here: A historical moment in the Kemaman River

Hari Sabtu, 21hb Mei 2011 merupakan hari yang bersejarah bagi penduduk tempatan di Kg. Pasir Gajah, Kemaman kerana pada hari ini, lebih dari 100 ekor anak tuntung sungai dilepaskan ke dalam Sungai Kemaman buat pertama kalinya. Projek pemuliharaan tuntung sungai ini dimulakan pada bulan Februari 2011, dan dijalankan oleh penduduk tempatan. Hasil daripada projek tersebut, sebanyak 420 butir telur tuntung sungai telah dieramkan, dan sebanyak 198 ekor anak tuntung telah menetas.

Lebih kurang 25 orang penduduk setempat, baik muda atau tua, menghadiri upacara ringkas tersebut. Menurut En. Mohd. Nor, aktiviti sebegitu tidak pernah diadakan di Sungai Kemaman. Gambar-gambar berikut menunjukkan aktiviti pada hari pelepasan tuntung tersebut. Semua gambar diambil oleh Pelf.

TERIMA KASIH diucapkan sekali lagi kepada En. Mohd. Nor bin Jusoh, Pengerusi JKKK Pasir Gajah, Wazir dan ahli-ahli kumpulannya Azmi, Rosli, Nasir, Abdullah, Mat Ludin and Zulkifli!