A new plan to consume and conserve the Colombian Slider
Residents of the Colombian Caribbean region elaborate monuments and dedicate lyrics to the Hicotea turtle (Colombian Slider), but also consume this without discrimination. An innovating management plan oriented to the sustainable use of the specie mainly threaten by the excessive exploitation will avoid extinction. This plan is done by the lead work of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and ordered by the Ministry of Environment.Bogotá D. C., 09 de julio de 2009 — Agencia de Noticias UN-
Villagers, who consume the Hicotea turtle, exceed imagination to catch their preys. Turned into amphibians, hide their faces behind masks of leaves, walk in waters of bogs, and search patiently in the vegetation. However, they complaint and notice that the turtles scarce year after year.
For investigator and director of the Biology Department, Maria Argenis Bonilla the situation is clear: it is impossible to ban the hunt of the Hicotea turtle, because this animal is part of the idiosyncrasy of many communities in the Caribbean. Its meat is the only source of nutritious food for thousands of people, extremely poor. “We have to propose strategies of use and not disuse of the Hicotea, that’ll allow a long term persistence of it, in spite of local consumption.”
It is also clear that an important threat to the turtle’s population is the high demand in coastal and inland cities, which is caused an illegal traffic of both subspecies that inhabit the Colombian Caribbean and the Bajo Atrato (mouth of the Atrato River): the Trachemys callirostris callirostris and the Trachemys venusta venusta, respectively.
There are plenty of conservation plans for endangered species in the country, but the management plan oriented to the conservation and sustainable use of the Hicotea is innovative. Why? Because sets out strategies for the direct use of animals and human consumption, at the same time it looks for alternatives of nonuse (indirect use) that allow its preservation. Unlike other plans that concentrate in the conservation per se, just like the Tapir, the Gray Titi (from the family of Callitrichidae) or the Manatee.
The management plan for the Hicotea involves, not only experimented biologists, but also undergraduate and graduate students. From diverse approaches each population’s dynamics were considered: their reproduction, distribution, ecosystems, threats, and a new ingredient for the biologist: the social surroundings where the turtle lives.
The work done by biologists at the UN wasn’t only to measure turtles, they had to carry out surveys and get into the reality of villagers in remote places of the Colombian Caribbean, because it is in conjunction with them that the strategy plans to stop the illegal animal commerce and provide a sustainable use. In other words, to serve as sustenance for the population of the region, but still conserving the ecological balance.
In order to develop the plan, the UN strengthen bows with investigators Jaime de la Ossa from the Universidad de Sucre, and Vivian Páez, from the Universidad de Antioquia. These experts contributed providing deep biological information about the Hicotea and a vital approach to both subspecies management plan.
The main threats to the turtle populations were detected according to their development own stage: the broods are sacked for the local consumption, the newborns are hunt to sell as pets in the cities and the female adults are commercialized for the consumption of their meat in coastal cities and Bogotá.
One of the most worrisome evidences is that among adult Hicotea turtles, the most hunted ones are females, due to the popular belief that its meat is more nutritious. This affects the reproduction, which in turn affects the total number of eggs each turtle lays.
“Today many big turtles caught at the seizures won’t exceed 29 centimeters in length, but villagers and the registry indicated that in the past, females were much bigger. Off course, one bigger turtle means a higher number of eggs,” adds Argenis Bonilla.
Next July, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia will give to Corporaciones Autónomas del Caribe (Autonomous Corporations from the Caribbean) an official document of the plan that looks forward to improve management, sustainable use, and conservation of both subspecies of Hicotea. The plan also condenses work by other universities from the coast and official records of Corporations, but above all the work by the communities.
Leaded by the UN, the management plan is oriented to a sustainable use and conservation; looks for the communities to take control of the ecosystems that surround them and vindicate their knowledge to obtain balance of nature.