12 September 2021, Sittwe
A species unique to the state it is named after, the Arakan mountain tortoise is facing extinction within the next five years due to illegal poaching, according to a turtle conservation group.
The Arakan mountain tortoise, also known as the Arakan forest turtle, is critically endangered and is only found in the wild in western Myanmar, said Dr. Kalyar Platt, director of the Turtle Survival Alliance.
“In some villages, Arakan tortoises are still eaten by people. If they continue to kill like this, the species will become extinct. It will be safe for this species if it is not eaten for the next 10 years,” she added.
According to surveys, there are only about 1,000 Arakan mountain tortoises left in Arakan State. Although they are called mountain tortoises, they do not usually dwell in the mountains, but rather in the forests at the foot of mountains, Dr. Kalyar Platt added.
“Although we have been educating the public about the Arakan tortoise, we are not able to carry out conservation and education activities as before due to political instability,” she said.
“It can be said that the Arakan mountain turtles are a treasure of Arakan State. Look at other animals in Myanmar. It is rare to represent the name of your city or ethnic group, for example, Arakan monti,” she said, referring to the traditional Arakanese noodle dish.
According to researchers, the Arakan mountain tortoise is threatened with extinction due to deforestation and the illegal animal trade to China.
During the rainy season, turtles are often seen being sold in various forms at markets in Arakan State. A local resident of Sittwe said on condition of anonymity that he had not heard of any action being taken by authorities to combat the illicit selling.
“Turtles are also roasted and sold. Some people just put it in a box and sell it at the market. I don’t know what the market authorities will do if they sell like this. In the past, I only heard that the township government would take action in Mrauk-U,” the source said.
The Mrauk-U Township municipality on August 30 issued a warning over loudspeakers in the market saying that those who illegally kill and sell tortoises could be sentenced to three to 10 years in prison.
Myanmar is home to 26 species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, and has the fourth-most diverse turtle population in Asia after Indonesia, India and Vietnam, according to the Turtle Survival Alliance.