turtle pig

A pig-nosed turtle on display at an aquarium in Singapore. The aquarium in the Chinese Gardens holds the biggest selection of turtles in the world Credit: Flickr/wilth

This amazing animal is the pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta), a native  to the freshwater rivers, streams and lagoons of the Northern Territory in Australia and parts of southern New Guinea. With its delicate piggy snout, webbed flippers and beautiful colors, this turtle gives to show yet again why Australia is home to some of the world’s wackiest creatures. And although it might not be as cute or majestic as an arctic fox, the pig-nosed turtle is as adorable as they get.

Credit: Flickr / B. Gohacki

Credit: Flickr / B. Gohacki

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The sex is the animal is determined by the egg’s temperature, and when matured it can grow to 70cm in size and 20kg in weight. But what’s the deal with the snout? Apparently it pokes it out above the water’s surface, while keeping the rest of its body submersed. While less striking, its paddle-shaped flippers are also interesting and sort of atypical. These are usually seen in marine turtles, yet the pig-nosed turtle dwells in freshwater. In fact, some researchers believe its family, Carettochelyidae, represents an evolutionary link between freshwater and marine turtles. Sadly, the pig-nosed turtle is the only species left in its family, and it too is in danger of disappearing.

Its unusual appearance makes it particularly vulnerable since many seek to keep the turtles as pets. Demand is kept high also by rumors of their supposed medicinal properties among Asian communities (the rhino is another species being slaughtered in the name of superstition and pseudo-science). According to Traffic, an international watchdog group that monitors the wildlife trade, some two million wild pig-nosed turtle eggs are illegally collected by the locals of Papua in New Guinea every year and sold internationally as hatchlings, which can sell on the international market for $39-$56 each. Carla Eisemberg from the University of Canberra reports that in some areas of Papua, locals are harvesting more than 95 percent of the content of these wild nests (study).

China has one of the biggest thirsts on the globe for pet turtles, says Ross Kiester, Chief Scientist at the Turtle Conservancy. “The pet trade is definitely increasing and you see that as the Asian countries become more wealthy. 20 years ago in China, no one could afford turtles as a pet – and now everyone can.”

To avoid the extinction of the species, Chris Shepherd, regional director of Traffic in Southeast Asia, is calling for “urgent enforcement action in Papua”. Governments must increase the number of inspectors along the international points of trade chain in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, mainland China and Hong Kong, he says. Shepherd also advocates for international public awareness campaigns and “efforts to address socio-economic issues that drive the illegal trade in this distinctive but imperiled species”.