Geochelone platynota is included in CITES Appendix I. It is completely protected under Myanmar’s Protection of Wildlife, Wild Plants and Conservation of Natural Areas Law, 1994. However, enforcement of legislation is often lax and largely ineffectual in preventing illegal trade from Myanmar to southern China (Platt et al. 2011). An attempt in 2007 to reintroduce G. platynota into Minsontaung was unsuccessful, with all tortoises poached, or disappearing within six months (Platt et al. 2011). A licensed commercial captive breeding operation exists in Bagan, however, there are no exports currently from this facility following the CITES Appendix I listing.
Captive breeding of the species has been greatly successful. From 2008–2016 three assurance colonies in Myanmar increased at an annual rate of 37% (Platt et al. 2017). In mid-October 2016, the total captive population of G. platynota in Myanmar was 7,150 individuals with an additional >1,000 eggs incubating (Platt et al. 2017). Ongoing reintroduction efforts into the Minsontaung Wildlife Sanctuary and Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctuary are proving successful (K. Platt pers. comm. 2018). There is a target to reintroduce into six wildlife sanctuaries within Myanmar over the next ten years (K. Platt pers. comm. 2018). Very tight security and enforcement is in place for the reintroduction sites; without such security, there is a likelihood of extensive poaching resuming (K. Platt pers. comm. 2018).
Geochelone platynota is restricted to the dry zone of central Myanmar, where it is found at elevations of between 50 and 500 m above sea level. It was ecologically extinct in the wild by 2000, but has since been reintroduced to two protected areas, Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctuary and Minsontaung Wildlife Sanctuary.
Geochelone platynota was extremely rare as early as the 1980s and suffered significant declines to the point that it was considered ecologically extinct in the wild as early as 2000. Since 2013, G. platynota has been successfully reintroduced into former localities of Minsontaung Wildlife Sanctuary and Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctuary. About 2,100 reintroduced subadults (about five years old) were reintroduced, and these are reproducing in the wild, with 51 hatchlings encountered in surveys during 2017 (K. Platt pers. comm. 2018). The former location of Mya Leik Thaung is now flooded resulting from regional hydrological development.
Geochelone platynota is in high demand in the international pet trade. Although historically exploited for subsistence, a dramatic increase in harvest occurred in the mid 1990s following increasing demand Chinese wildlife markets (Platt et al. 2000). Juveniles are in especially high demand in the pet trade, whilst larger adults enter food and medicinal markets. Although harvesting has declined dramatically recently, due to the extirpation of wild populations, continued commercial demand poses a serious impediment to reintroduction into the wild (Platt et al. 2011). In addition to over-exploitation, habitat degradation and fragmentation, as the result of conversion to agricultural lands, threaten G. platynota.
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Roland Wirth (category and featured image)