First Wild Birth of Critically Endangered Burmese Turtles

  • Staff at a conservation group captured the birth of 15 Burmese peacock softshell turtle hatchlings.
  • The rare species, found only in Myanmar, is one of the world’s most endangered freshwater turtles.
  • The video of the turtles in their clutch is the first official record of the hatchlings in the wild.

Fifteen tiny turtles in Myanmar just made waves across the scientific community after their birth was captured on camera by conservation workers in what appears to be the first official record of Burmese peacock softshell turtle hatchlings.

The rare species, named for bright orange spots on its shell reminiscent of peacock feathers, are found only in Myanmar and are highly sought after in East Asian food markets. In addition to being overharvested as an ingredient for stews and soups in the region, the quality of the turtles’ environment has degraded over time, diminishing the resources available for the previously abundant species.  

Burmese peacock softshell turtle hatchlings

After their weight and measurements were taken, the hatchlings were released around Indawgyi, one of the largest inland lakes in Southeast Asia.

Nyein Chan & Yae Aung / Fauna & Flora

As a result, Burmese peacock softshell turtles are one of the world’s most endangered freshwater turtle species. According to The Zoological Society of London’s Edge of Existence Programme, they are at significant risk of extinction.

Local volunteers, in partnership with the conservation group Fauna & Flora International, have been working since mid-2022 to increase the population of the turtles near Indawgyi, one of the largest inland lakes in Southeast Asia.

This year, designated “turtle guardians” discovered five nesting sites for the endangered creatures around Indawgyi, fenced them off to prevent them from being damaged, and set up regular patrols to monitor the nests, according to a statement from Fauna & Flora International.

Adult Burmese peacock softshell turtle (Nilssonia formosa) being released, Indawgyi.

An adult Burmese peacock softshell turtle (Nilssonia formosa) being released in Indawgyi.

Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

According to the conservation group, the video of the turtles hatching is the first known recording of the species born in the wild. After Fauna & Flora staff took measurements and the turtles’ weight, they were released back to the wild near Indawgyi.


The New York Times reported the discovery is “exquisitely thrilling,” according to Fredric Janzen, a biology professor at Michigan State University specializing in softshell turtles but not involved in the project.

The discovery comes several years after Fauna & Flora worked to establish Indawgyi as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2017 to support the home of more than 160 bird species — some of which are globally threatened — as well as turtles, mammals, reptiles, primates, and fish endemic to the area.

“Working with local communities will be key to our success in addressing the threats to the critically endangered Burmese peacock softshell turtle. We are already seeing the results of collaborating with communities to manage and protect key nesting sites and habitat,” said Zau Lunn, Programme Manager, Freshwater and Marine, Fauna & Flora.

Lunn added: “Our work to save this species, which is unique to Myanmar, has only just begun, but the discovery and release of these hatchlings is a great start and a wonderful example of how we can work together to save nature.”

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