The Critically Endangered Magdalena River turtle is endemic to northwestern Colombia, where it has undergone mass population declines of over 80% in less than 25 years.
This species is one of several comprising the prehistoric lineage Podocnemididae. These ancient turtles diverged from all other living species around 100 million years ago. This is around the same time humans last shared a common ancestor with bats, tigers and pangolins!
The Magdalena River turtle certainly looks prehistoric, with large shield-like plates armouring its robust head. This relatively large species is unique amongst the South American members of its family, being the only species to occur north of the Andes.
Along with habitat loss due to livestock and agricultural expansion, hunting for meat is a major threat to this distinctive species. There are also local beliefs that this species can help women recover following pregnancy, cure various diseases, boost longevity and strength, and serve as an aphrodisiac.
Commercial exploitation of the Magdalena River turtle and its eggs is prohibited in Colombia, but the legislation often goes unenforced. Most conservation efforts focus on ‘head-starting’ hatchlings (where hatchlings are raised in captivity for a period of time before being released). It is hoped the advent of community-based strategies will improve the enforcement and engagement of local people with national legislation and the conservation of this turtle.
- Order: Testudines
- Family: Podocnemididae
- Population: Unknown
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 37cm (?)
- Weight: 5.6kg
The Magdelena River turtle is endemic to the Sinú, San Jorge, Cauca, and Magdalena river drainages in northwestern Colombia.
Habitat and Ecology
This species is often found in river banks, and often found basking on banks or fallen trees. Nesting occurs primarily on sandy beaches, with an average clutch size of 22 eggs.