Status of Two Endemic Sulawesi Turtles
Sulawesi is one of the approximately 17,500 islands in Indonesia. It is the 11th largest island in the world and a world leader in endemic biodiversity. Like the rest of Indonesia, it has lost almost all of its lowland forest to logging and palm oil plantations seriously threatening its rich biodiversity. Among its many endemics are the Forsten’s Tortoise (Indotestudo forstenii) and the Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi). They are two of the least known chelonians in the world, but their small range coupled with extreme pressure from the exotic pet trade makes them candidates for extinction.
The Turtle Conservancy has managed Sulawesi Forest Turtles in the past, and are currently successfully breeding Forsten’s Tortoise, having produced 11 offspring with more eggs currently incubating. Although we have had captive husbandry success with this species, we felt it was important to better understand its status and natural history in Indonesia. Consequently, we have wanted to visit Sulawesi for some time. In June of 2012, Eric Goode and Max Maurer finally got a chance to go there.
In the surrounding mountains and hills of Palu, Forsten’s Tortoise populations have sharply declined. We visited a “Captive Breeding Facility” that was ramping up to begin exporting both species for the international pet trade. This facility had hundreds of Forsten’s Tortoises and Sulawesi Forest Turtles. The sight was disturbing, but suggests that both species may be in more trouble than previously thought.
To find the Sulawesi Forest Turtle in its natural habitat we had a day long drive north. Ultimately we found two adult males and eleven young turtles in the Ganonggol River. Turtles were seen both during the day and night, and most of the turtles were found during the day. The turtles were only photographed.
The continued international demand for these two species is clearly motivating dealers to find loopholes in the system to begin exporting these species. It would be our strong recommendation that these two endangered species be up listed to CITES Appendix I to avoid any further export.