Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Cousin: The Impressed Tortoise

Impressed Tortoises are one of the most unique of the tortoise chelonian species. Though currently rare in private and zoo collections, a large amount of work is taking place on the species in a wide variety of arenas including disease detection, taxonomy and work at the Chengdu Zoo in central China.

The Impressed Tortoise remains something of an enigma, with very little known about the species either in the wild or in captivity. This tortoise can be identified by its relatively flattened carapace, which has a strongly serrated rim and concave scutes, from which the common and scientific names derive.

The carapace is a pale horn to dull orange color, with brown coloring at the center of each scute, blending into darker radiating streaks towards the edges, which contrast starkly with the pale under-color. These markings fade with age, however, and older adults may be nearly uniformly horn colored. While the limbs and tail are dark brown to black, the head is a conspicuous yellow to tan with pink pigment around the snout of some individuals.

It has been reported that this species is from extreme southern Yunnan Province with localities in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, with a habitat to be fairly dry and generally away from the water bodies, so this tortoise relies instead on dew or rain-drenched vegetation.

While there are many species that have difficulties adjusting to captivity, this species is far and away the toughest of all, with almost 100% mortality rate among those caught.

The Impressed tortoise is declining in the wild due to exploitation for the Chinese and Vietnamese food markets, and habitat loss as the result of agricultural expansion and uncontrolled forest fires. Additionally, the tortoise’s collection for the pet trade seems to have grown in recent decades.