The Burmese roofed turtle has been saved from the brink of extinction. The turtle had not been seen for over 20 years, leading many conservationists to assume that it was extinct. But in 2001, one Burmese roofed turtle was spotted in markets in Myanmar, sparking interest among scientists. From this point forward, efforts to save the endangered species were put in place by scientists in collaboration with the government of Myanmar. The efforts have paid off, with nearly 1,000 of these turtles existing today.

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The Burmese roofed turtle is a giant Asian river turtle that is characterized by its large eyes and small, natural smile. Since the sighting of a surviving turtle in Myanmar about 20 years ago, the population of the turtles has been increased to about 1,000, thanks to serious conservation efforts. Some of the turtles have already been released to the wild, while the others are still within captivity.

Related: This turtle with a green mohawk is one of the most endangered reptiles in the world

These turtles were once thriving around the mouth of the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar. But by the mid-20th century, fishing and overharvesting led to a significant drop in the number of turtles. For years, the state of the species was unknown, given that Myanmar had closed its borders. Scientists could not access the country and, as a result, could not make any efforts to save the turtles. By the time Myanmar reopened its borders in the 1990s, scientists could not find any Burmese roofed turtles and began to believe that they were extinct.

“We came so close to losing them. If we didn’t intervene when we did, this turtle would have just been gone,” Steven Platt, a herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told The New York Times.

Turtles and tortoises are among the most vulnerable species globally. About half of the planet’s turtle and tortoise species, a total of 360 living species, are threatened. The scenario is especially bad for species across Asia, where turtles and tortoises are affected by habitat loss, climate change and hunting for consumption.

But the recent good news on the growing population of Burmese roofed turtles gives hope that concerted conservation efforts can continue to save more vulnerable species.

Via The New York Times and Wildlife Conservation Society

Image via Wildlife Conservation Society