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First ever repatriation of critically endangered Roti Snake-necked Turtles from Singapore to their native country, Indonesia

19 JAN 2022
Thirteen Roti Snake-necked Turtles (Chelodina mccordi) were successfully repatriated from Singapore to their native country of Indonesia in September 2021. The first repatriation of its kind, this marks a significant milestone in ongoing conservation efforts for the recovery of the species’ wild population led by Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia (MOEF) and Balai Besar KSDA Nusa Tenggara Timur (BBKSDA NTT) Province with support of Mandai Nature, Singapore Zoo, and Wildlife Conservation Society – Indonesia Program (WCS-IP).

Staff from Singapore Zoo’s Animal Care team and Mandai Nature prepping the crates to ensure a safe and comfortable journey for the turtles.

Photo credit: Mandai Nature

Since their arrival, the turtles have settled in well at a breeding facility in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara province under the watchful eyes of BBKSDA and WCS-IP. The facility was constructed with Mandai Nature’s support to manage a head-starting programme for this highly threatened species, where individuals are raised from egg development to later life stages under human care with the aim of eventually reintroducing progenies into their native wild habitats. Such programmes help to increase the chances of survival of individuals released into the wild. The turtles will hence form part of the first structured conservation breeding programme located in Indonesia. Breeding efforts are underway and both WCS-IP and BBKSDA NTT are closely monitoring and observing the group for signs of gravid females.

Director General Wiratno from the Directorate General of Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation (KSDAE) at MOEF, added, “This repatriation is the first step in restoring the Roti Snake-necked Turtle population in its natural habitat, as well as showing that species conservation is a concern for the international community.” 

Dr Sonja Luz, Deputy CEO of Mandai Nature and Vice President, Conservation, Research & Veterinary at Mandai Wildlife Group which manages Singapore Zoo, said “We are proud to be a part of this landmark achievement which was only made possible with the involvement of various partners over the years and strong support from the Indonesian government. This has been something that Mandai Nature, Singapore Zoo and WCS-IP have been working towards since the development of a concerted conservation plan for the Roti Snake-necked turtle five years ago. Once again, this is a great example for the One Plan Approach to species conservation, in which different organisations and partners come together to achieve a united goal. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with WCS-IP and reaching the next conservation milestone of establishing a viable wild population of the species on Roti Island.”

Dr Noviar Andayani, WCS-IP's Country Director, further said, “Conserving the Roti Snake-necked Turtle is important to sustain people's livelihoods on Roti Island. Protecting the lakes for the habitat of this species also means maintaining water supply on this arid land. "With our government partners, WCS-IP will work hand-in-hand with the communities around the lakes to protect the turtles and their habitats. We will use sound science to design our management interventions and to promote sustainable economic practices around the lakes”.

Listed on the IUCN Red List as “Critically Endangered”, the Roti Snake-necked Turtle is one of the 25 most threatened freshwater turtle species in the world. Native to Roti Island in East Nusa Tenggara, the turtle has not been seen in its natural habitat since 2009, leading researchers to believe it may be extinct in the wild. The species’ rapid decline is largely attributed to the destruction of its wetland habitat for agricultural activity and its desirability in the international pet trade.

Prior to their return to Indonesia, the turtles were held in Singapore Zoo which houses the only assurance colony for the species in Asia. The assurance colony was established in 2015, with the turtles sent to the zoo from breeding programmes in the United States and Austria.

As part of its partnership with WCS-IP, Mandai Nature has engaged in capacity building efforts to develop the ex-situ programme in Kupang and share husbandry best practices to ensure the best possible standards of animal care and welfare for the turtles. The animal care team from Singapore Zoo also made field visits to Kupang in August 2019 to help improve operation efforts of the facility.

The partnership continues as the next phase of the conservation plan is carried out, with WCS-IP working with BBKSDA NTT to strengthen local community support for the conservation of the turtles and protection of the designated habitats. These include ongoing outreach visits to build trust with key village figures and training villagers to conduct community-based patrols around the lakes. BBKSDA NTT and WCS-IP, with Mandai Nature’s support, are also developing reintroduction guidelines for the turtles as well as long-term monitoring protocols so conservationists can closely track the progress of the turtles in their designated habitats in the wild.

The Roti turtles arrived at the facility in Kupang, welcomed by the Head of BBKSDA NTT. 


Photo credit: WCS Indonesia Program

One of the turtles being scanned for a microchip at the Singapore Zoo. Each individual is fitted with a microchip to provide a form of identification. 

Photo credit: Singapore Zoo

The Roti Snake-necked Turtles have to undergo a full health assessment and required tests to ensure they are healthy and in good condition before their departure from Singapore Zoo. This includes blood draws and recording their weights. 

Photo credit: Singapore Zoo

The Roti Snake-necked Turtles in the Kupang facility. 

Photo credit: BBKSDA NTT

The Roti Snake-necked Turtles arrived in the facility in Kupang, welcomed by the Head of BBKSDA NTT Kupang. The authorities examined the turtles’ condition.


Photo credit: BBKSDA NTT

A close up photo of a Roti Snake-necked Turtle. 

Photo credit: WCS Indonesia Program

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