Rescued reptiles were not native species

Mr Lee Chiu San wrote that it would be better for the rescued giant Asian turtles to be released here, as they could be native to Singapore (Better if Acres had released rescued reptiles here; April 21).

The giant Asian turtle species is listed as introduced in Singapore.

Most of the rescued reptiles had paint markings or wordings on their shells, which suggest that they were part of mercy releases.

Mercy release is the practice of releasing animals from captivity, with the belief that liberation brings good karma. Although done with good intention, this is a cruel act and a prohibited one in protected areas.

The sighting of hatchlings does not indicate that a species is native and breeding here. It has to be noted that hatchlings are also often part of mercy releases.

We have spotted juvenile green iguanas and red-eared terrapins, which were all released, with the former being illegally smuggled.

Mr Lee wrote that he saw giant Asian pond turtles in the Peirce and Mandai reservoirs in the 1960.

The two places are known areas for Notochelys platynota, or Malayan flat-shelled turtle.

It was not uncommon to see these turtles swimming or basking at the central catchment reservoirs in the past, as they were the dominant big turtle species here then.

Now, however, it has become extremely hard to find one. This can be traced back to the sudden spike in introduced turtle species Orlitia borneensis and Heosemys grandis - Malaysian giant turtle and giant Asian pond turtle respectively - which have become dominant in the Mandai area.

To confirm a species as being native, one has to look at past data and research. All these point at the giant Asian turtle being an introduced species.

Even if a nest is recorded in the future, it does not indicate that the species is native; it means that it is an introduced species that breeds in Singapore.

We assure Mr Lee that if any rescued species is native, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society will work with the National Parks Board to release it here in Singapore, just like what is done for other wild animals on a regular basis.

Anbarasi Boopal (Miss)
Deputy Chief Executive
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society

Serin Subaraj
Co-founder
Herpetological Society Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Rescued reptiles were not native species'. Print Edition | Subscribe