Turtles, tortoises, terrapins…is one of these not like the other, or are they all the same? It turns out that while the 3 Ts are similar enough to belong to the same order, each has slight differences that make it possible to tell them apart. For example, terrapins are a type of turtle, but they spend their time either on land, or in swampy, slightly salty water. You can see a very special turtle, the painted terrapin, right here at the Houston Zoo. What’s better than that? Just by coming to visit the painted terrapin, you are helping to save this species in the wild through your ticket proceeds supporting projects like the Satucita Foundation in Indonesia!
You may be asking, what makes the painted terrapin so special? For starters, the painted terrapin is ranked among the 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles on earth. At first glance, this terrapin may not seem very remarkable, with its grey/brown coloring that matches its swampy surroundings. However, when breeding season arrives, the males become quite colorful! Their shells will lighten to reveal bold black markings, and their grey heads turn pure white with a bright crimson red strip developing between the eyes. This species also has an upturned snout, which makes it easier for them to feed on vegetation lying on the surface of the water.
Painted terrapins face a number of threats in the wild, including: poaching for eggs, predation, the pet trade, and habitat loss. When project founder Joko Guntoro first started his painted terrapin research in 2009, no one knew if the species even existed in the Aceh Tamiang region of Indonesia, as it had already gone extinct in Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand. In that first year, only 9 adult painted terrapins were found, but by putting regular patrols of nesting beaches in place as well as doing community outreach and improving methods for egg incubation, this project has seen amazing success. As of March 8th, 61 eggs from the latest nesting season that were being raised in the hatchery have successfully hatched! This nesting season the team was able to save 443 eggs from threats such as egg poaching and natural predators like wild pigs. To date, 1,204 hatchlings have been released back into the wild to restore the painted terrapin population in the Indonesian district of Aceh Tamiang.
The Satucita Foundation team still has a long road ahead of them, but each year the future looks a little brighter for painted terrapins in Indonesia. We are honored to have such incredible partners in the field saving wildlife, and it is an even greater honor to be able to introduce our community to such a unique species right here at the Zoo. Make sure to drop by the orangutan habitat in the Wortham World of Primates on your next visit to catch a glimpse of not one, but two species that you are helping to save in the wild.