Human consumption and massive floods are among the main threats to the existence of the yellow-spotted river turtles in the Rupununi region of Guyana, prompting passionate environmental activists to take on a leading role in rescuing this important species to the local ecosystem.
The South Rupununi Conservation Society (SRCS), one of the leading grassroots conservation nongovernmental organisations in the country, officially began monitoring the trends associated with the yellow-spotted river turtles in 2021, along four beaches along the Rupununi River: Wuarad Baara, Pokordin Baara, Pokoridwao Baara and Boizowoi Pao Baara.
The aim of that project was to reverse the decline in the population of the turtles. The beaches were being monitored daily by SRCS rangers until the turtle eggs hatched, to ensure that the eggs remain under protection.
Today, the organisation has rescued more than 1700 turtles, according to Programme Coordinator Neal Millar.
During an interview with this publication, the environmental activist explained that through careful monitoring of the turtles by the team of SRCS rangers, it was calculated that in the rainy and dry season right up to the point of hatching, there was need for urgent action.
“With a river that rises very quickly, If the rangers had done nothing and just left the eggs, the nests would’ve been flooded, because once the nests are submerged in water for 24 hours the nests will drown and no hatchlings will occur,” he explained.
Explaining the process, Millar shared that once the rangers saw the swiftly rising rivers, they quickly acted and collected the eggs from the nests before they were totally submerged in water.
A well-thought-out plan was then created to move the turtles into artificial nests, comprising basins filled with sand. As time passed, they moved these artificial nests back to the village to take care of the said turtles, then gradually placed them in bigger areas filled with sand and smoothly placed them back into their primary habitat.
The eggs were left to hatch while under surveillance by the rangers. This routine monitoring continued for some time after the eggs hatched, and by October, they were then released into the wild.
Through these heroic actions over the period 2021 to 2023, 1700 turtles were saved – a great accomplishment by the SRCS.
Millar explained that flooding normally results in the nests of turtles being filled and once the water remains stagnant for more than 24 hours, they will drown. These floods, which were noticed and recorded before, started early in April of 2021 and March of 2022.
According to Millar, another concern was the human consumption of turtles within the South Rupununi area. He related that inhabitants would often capture the turtles for their personal consumption which has led to a decline of the species that could lead to their possible extinction.
The SRCS is an indigenous-led, grassroot conservation Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in the South Rupununi, Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), Guyana. It was formed in 2002 by a group of friends from several communities in the South Rupununi including Shulinab, Katoonarib, and Dadanawa.
The group was formed to respond to a perceived increase in environmental degradation, a decrease in wildlife population, and a loss of culture that they had witnessed in the Rupununi over their own lifetimes and heard about from older generations.
Anyone willing to support the organisation can contact the SRCS on its Facebook page “South Rupununi Conservation Society” or via email: [email protected].