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59. Cantor’s Giant Softshell

Pelochelys cantorii

About

Cantor’s giant softshell is an exceptionally large freshwater turtle, with individuals known to reach over 1 metre in length and weigh more than 100 kilograms! Sadly, these extraordinary turtles are on the brink of extinction.

This strange-looking turtle is also referred to as the ‘frog-faced softshell’ due to its odd facial features. These turtles have an extremely large distribution, from Bangladesh to the Philippines and Borneo, and it is possible that it actually comprises more than a single species. Cantor’s softshell is a freshwater turtle but, unusually for most freshwater species, is also found in brackish coastal waters.

There are three extant softshell species of the genus Pelochelys, and these three species diverged from all other turtles over 40 million years ago. This is more than 10 million years before the divergence separating humans and baboons! The family to which these amazing turtles belong diverged from all other living creatures more than 140 million years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.

Cantor’s giant softshell is under threat from harvesting by local people for meat, accidental killing and persecution from fishermen when caught in fishing gear, and the destruction of its freshwater and coastal habitats. The species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List however, at the time of writing, this assessment is long out-of-date and in urgent need of updating.

Cantor’s giant softshell is listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, designated as a First Grade Protected Animal in China, and is also a protected species in Myanmar and in Vietnam. The species is listed on CITES Appendix II. Despite the dire situation facing this species, the establishment of Asian turtle conservation initiatives provide hope for the survival of this and many other threatened species.

  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Population: Uncommon
  • Trend: unknown
  • Size: 60-100cm (?)
  • Weight: 100kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 5.70 (?)
ED Score: 36.278 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct

Distribution

Cantor’s giant softshell is found across Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Habitat and Ecology

This species is known from a variety of different lowland aquatic habitats such as lakes, rivers, streams and swamps, and estuaries. Clutch sizes are around 24-70 eggs and the breeding season is from June to September. The species eats fish, shrimps, crabs and molluscs, in addition to vegetation.

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Download the Survival Blueprint for this species below. Each survival blueprint is compiled by an EDGE Fellow working on the species with input from collaborators and stakeholders. The Survival Blueprint provides a status review (information on the distribution, protection status, habitat & ecology, threat and stakeholder analysis) and more information on the action programme listed here.

Vision (30-50 years)

Viable populations of Cantor’s Giant Softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) in Kerala with local co-management to ensure that the immediate and indirect threats to the species are significantly reduced and/or mitigated.

Goal (5-10 years)

  • Fill important knowledge gaps on the species’ ecology and population dynamics in Kerala.
  • Identify critical areas for the species’ persistence and achieve their protection under Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act.
  • Mitigate the effects of check dams and nesting sites degradation on the population of P. cantorii.
  • The species is recognised as important for aquatic system in Kerala and appreciated locally.

Objectives

Priority
Assess the population status and extinction risk of Pelochelys cantorii in Kerala state Critical
Identify areas that are critical for the viability of P. cantorii’s local (sub)populations in Kerala state using telemetry Critical
Increase juvenile survival through nest protection and ex-situ incubation Critical
Build capacity among local fishers of Kerala to initiate a live release program for individuals that are accidentally caught Critical
Expand the citizen led alert network state-wide to update the distribution of the species in Kerala state High

Ayushi Jain

  • Project name: Status and conservation of Cantor’s giant softshell turtle in Kerala
  • Project site: Kuttiyadi and Valapattanam rivers, Kerala, India
  • Active: 2019 - ongoing
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