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A Discussion on

the Giant Asian

River Terrapin

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The Giant Asian River Terrapin, also known as Mangrove
Terrapin, River Terrapin and Batagur and scientifically as
Batagur baska, lives in the rivers and coastal mangrove
creeks and estuaries of Thailand, Vietnam, the Malaysian
peninsula, Cambodia, and parts of India.

The Batagur is also called the "Royal Turtle" by Cambodians
because its eggs were once a delicacy reserved only for
royalty. Turtle meat and eggs are considered delicacies
and/or medicine in most of Asia; hence the common name
terrapin, a word commonly reserved for turtles that are
considered food animals.

The consequence of the popularity of turtles in the Asian
food markets is that this and some other Asian turtles are
critically endangered. Happily, some Asian countries are
taking notice of the problem. For example, in Cambodia the
Batagur is now protected by order of the King.

The Giant Asian River Terrapin grows to a length of over
three feet (one meter) and weigh more than sixty-five pounds
(thirty kilograms). The front feet are wide and completely
webbed, and have only four claws rather than the usual five.
The snout is upturned and pointed, and the beak is serrated.
The carapace is wide, oval and primarily smooth, although
the young have a raised keel down the backbone. Young and
female turtles are primarily olive-grey with grey to brown
eyes, and have a lighter yellowish plastron.

Males are darker and have yellow or white eyes, and in the
breeding season they change color to dark black. The eye
color change usually begins when the male turtles are about
five years old. Unfortunately for the species, the usual age
before breeding is twenty-five, and very many of these
turtles wind up in the food markets long before they attain
that age. Besides the color variation described above, males
have longer and thicker tails than females and the cloaca is
round rather than elongated like the female. They are also
somewhat smaller than the females of the same age.

Mating takes place at the beginning of the dry season, and
three months later the females travel far upriver to lay
thirteen to thirty-four eggs in the deep sand of inland
sandbars and riverbanks. Over a six week period she may lay
two or three clutches.

After laying her eggs in the three to five foot deep nest
she has dug, the female Batagur covers them and compacts the
sand over the eggs well by dropping her body repeatedly onto
the sand. She does such a good job of it that the babies
must wait in the nest until flooding in the wet season
softens the sand to let them out. In Malaysia these turtles
are sometimes called tuntung because of the booming sound of
all the females tamping down their nests.

In captivity these turtles of course require a large
vivarium. They also need natural sunlight or its UVB
equivalent, warm, deep, clean, well-filtered water, high
ambient humidity, a land area with good access and egress
and a warm, deep sandy substrate for egg laying.

Batagurs are omnivorous, and will eat a wide variety of
edible greens, commercial turtle food, earthworms, feeder
fish, and just about anything else they can get into their mouths.

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