The McCord Snake necked turtle – Chelodina mccordi (Family Chelidae) is a moderate-sized snake-necked turtle endemic to the tiny island of Roti (= Rote) in southeastern Indonesia. It has an extremely limited distribution and has been subjected to intense collection pressure for the international pet trade market, which has driven it into virtual commercial extinction.(Rhodin, Ibarrondo, Kuchling, 2007).
Very few remaining scattered small populations have been observed on the island. The habitat is under severe pressure. Two subspecies have been described Chelodina mccordi mccordi and C.m.roteensis.
Ex situ: Short history
During the 70ties and 80ties the species has been imported into Europe in reasonable numbers. The imports by the international pet trade were from an unknown region under the name Chelodinanovaeguineae. The Rotterdam Zoo took the species into her collection during the 80ties and succeeded in reproduction a few years later; exact numbers lack but it is estimated to be several dozens. In 2003 new animals had entered the zoos collection now determined as Chelodina mccordi and breeding occurred in 2004 for the first time. Between 2004 and 2007 88 births have been reported. The majority of the captive born animals has been transferred to privates and other EAZA zoos. However the first animals mistakenly as Chelodina noveauguineae as Chelodina mccordi was first described in 1994 by Rhodin in 1994.
Since the early 90ties a studbook/breeding program has been coordinated by the European Studbook Foundation. According the latest 2013 studbook (Fontijne and Zwartepoorte, 2014) historically 76.75.363 (514) animals have been registered. The living population however counts 55.57.155 (269) animals. Several EAZA zoos participate within the ESF-studbook. By 20 EAZA institutions 29.29.84 (142) animals are kept. In the USA by 17 AZA institutions 22.20.49 (91) animals are kept. Since hardly any new wild caught animals entered the three registrations (ESF,EAZA and AZA) the number of wild caught founder animals is very limited as well as the number of breeding privates and institutions. In order to better coordinate and breed within EAZA a proposal for an European Studbook (ESB) is in preparation by the Nordens Ark Zoo in Sweden. Cooperation between ESF and EAZA will be improved.
Future of the species
Given the fact that taxonomy not always have been taken into proper consideration due to unknown origin of the imported animals the genetic health of the European captive population is uncertain. In order to reproduce for future reintroduction projects pure genetic breeding in captivity is vital.
A recovery plan is now in preparation by several people of the IUCN TFTSG. Within this plan genetic screening of known ESF founder animals will be executed. Very recently of 5 founder animals, originated from the Rotterdam Zoo stock including even one wild caught female, blood samples have been taken. This DNA sampling must be seen as a pilot action. More samples will be collected. The ESF studbook is very well prepared to participate in a broader genetic research as well as in involvement in the recovery/conservation plan for the species. The ESF studbook participants will be informed on the progress via quarterly ESF Newsletters and studbook messages.
Anders G.J. Rhodin, Bonggi R. Ibarrondo and Gerald Kuchling, 2008. Chelodina mccordi Rhodin 1994, Roti Island snake necked turtle, Mc Cord’s snake necked turtle Kur-Kura Rote.
Fontijne, D.W.A. and H.A. Zwartepoorte ,2014. ESF 2013 Studbook report Chelodina mccordi.
By Henk Zwartepoorte