TERRAPIN conservation in the wilderness along Sungai Kemaman is not for the faint-hearted due to the dangers associated with sleeping in campsites that are home to mosquitoes, snakes, wild boars and monkeys.
Other hazards include having fibre boats capsize while navigating strong river currents.
However, to a group of eco-warriors, these obstacles are but minor hindrances in their bid to protect Terengganu’s terrapins and their nesting sites at several sandy banks along four tributaries of Sungai Kemaman.
Calling themselves Terrapin Guardians, the group of 10 men have kept vigil over the four riverbanks every night since early this month to protect the nests and eggs from predators, such as monitor lizards, and poachers.
“The southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis) nesting season has just started, but we have been monitoring activities along several nesting sites since early this month.
“We face the same challenges every night, especially encountering wild animals, which we keep at bay with campfire.
“We will be guarding the sites for the next three months until after the terrapin nesting season is over,” said Dylan Wang, a member of the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCSM).
Last year, the Terrapin Guar-dians successfully incubated more than 1,000 eggs compared with just 220 eggs in 2018.
“This is not the exact figure because we cannot count the landings as terrapins return to the rivers before we are able to catch them for measurements. However, we hope to incubate more eggs after this,” he told the New Sunday Times.
He said the nesting period could be as brief as three weeks or as long as three months. This year, the first batch of hatchlings are expected to emerge from the incubation site in early May.
“We translocate the eggs so we’re able to prevent the production of 100 per cent females. At the hatchery, we try to produce at least 30 to 40 per cent males. But this figure can only be confirmed through laparoscopy tests.”
Wang said all data would be shared publicly as a way to inform society at large, as well as to create awareness on the need to protect the terrapins, which are a Totally Protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.
“We upload this information onto our website and on social media, while annual reports are sent to the Wildlife and National Parks Department. Sometimes, potential sponsors would like to see our previous projects and achievements.”
On TCSM’s terrapin adoption project, Wang said it could have been better.
“We need to push the project. If we don’t promote, adoptions won’t come in. Our adoptions are RM35 each, where RM5 goes towards buying an egg and RM30 goes towards buying a microchip. Each adoption comes with a personalised Certification of Adoption and a tax-deductible receipt.”
On whether TCSM’s budget for the conservation programme is sufficient to sustain it, he said the society managed to secure a grant from United Nations Development Programme Global Environmental Finance last year.
“For now, we’re doing okay because we are able to cover expenses and we have sufficient financial help to buy back eggs.
“But the public could also help by sending funds for us to buy vegetables and pellets for the hatchlings. Pellets cost approximately RM70 per bag, and depending on number of terrapins we are raising, could last for only two weeks.”
Wang said his team was touched by the presence of Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed, a retiree from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai, Johor, who visited the incubation site to relocate terrapin eggs.
Maketab, a former two-term Malaysian Nature Society president from 2010 to 2014, has his heart set on the environment and matters that threaten the survival of animals, especially those listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as “critically endangered”.