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Turtle Survival Alliance: Big-Headed Turtle Confiscation in Myanmar

  • Dr. Yaoyao Mathura and Dr. Marc Valitutto examine an endangered big-headed turtle.
    Singapore Zoo veterinarian Dr. Yaoyao Mathura and Smithsonian Global Health veterinarian Dr. Marc Valitutto examine an endangered big-headed turtle, one of the hundreds requiring rapid medical intervention.

On Nov. 7 2016, approximately 800 big-headed turtles (Platysternon megacephalum) were confiscated from Chinese traders arrested in Tachileik, Myanmar. It is believed that many of the endangered turtles were kept in poor conditions for a period of five to eight months leaving most of the animals in critical condition by the time they arrived at the Wildlife Conservation Society/Turtle Survival Alliance Rescue Center. TSA staff, led by  Country TSA Manager Dr. Kalyar Platt and Burmese veterinarian Dr. Tint Lwin, worked tirelessly to save these rare animals, but the overwhelming volume and medical severity required additional skilled assistance. 

Dr. Marc Valitutto of Smithsonian Global Health, stationed in Myanmar to conduct pangolin health research, was called upon to provide lifesaving medical care for the confiscated turtles and develop an action plan until a WCS/TSA veterinary team could arrive.  Smithsonian collaboration with the WCS/TSA stems from a strong Smithsonian presence and capacity-building efforts within Myanmar. The assistance provided by Valitutto underscores the valuable contributions Smithsonian Global Health representatives offer to local veterinarians and wildlife conservationists. Platt has requested further Smithsonian expertise for future training and workshops for local community participants and in-country staff.