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Turtles are one of the most endearing and symbolic of America's native wildlife. Turtles not only fascinate each passing generation of children, who find endless wonders under those hard shells, but they also continue to serve as a timeless role model in children's literature: the slow and steady turtle, whose patient progress always wins out against his fast but feckless competitor.
Yet the turtles' lofty status hasn't prevented humans from abusing the creature. In fact, all land, freshwater, and sea turtles are facing imminent threats to their survival, simply because of human activities. Turtles are the reptile most affected by the pet trade, not to mention the food and traditional medicine industries. Many turtle species also suffer from the effects of pollution as well as from the destructive effects of industrial fishing operations.
Marine turtles are one of the longest living groups of animals to have ever existed, but human activities have placed them under increasing pressure. Across the Middle East and around the world these ancient creatures are today threatened, mostly through habitat loss and unintentional capture in fisheries, leaving them in dire need of conservation action.
On ‘World Turtle Day’, May 23rd, Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF, is launching a three year satellite tracking project to better understand their biological and conservation needs. Focusing on the endangered Hawksbill turtle, (listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List), the project will follow up to 100 post-nesting female turtles from the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Data collected from the satellite tracking programme will be used to help local and regional agencies identify the critical overseas migration routes and near-shore habitats favoured by the turtles. This will consequently help management and conservation authorities with their decisions and activities.
Commenting on the launch, Lisa Perry, Program Director, EWS-WWF, stated, “The goal of the Marine Turtle Conservation Project is to implement a comprehensive research and satellite tracking programme that will enable us to protect marine turtles of the Gulf and wider region. To do this we will combine scientific research and monitoring, with environmental awareness centred on marine turtle protection, resulting in the long-term conservation of these animals and their habitat.”
According to Native American lore, the turtle symbolizes strength, longevity, and perseverance. And now the quiet and gentle animal has its own day on the calendar: May 23, which is this Sunday.
World Turtle Day was started a decade ago by American Tortoise Rescue, a nonprofit that works to protect all tortoise and turtle species. The yearly tradition celebrates turtles and encouraging people to learn more about how to protect the ancient reptiles.
To celebrate the day, why not spend May 23 outdoors, check out a few library books about turtles, or send a free turtle-themed e-card? There’s even a fun online quiz that can reveal your famous turtle alter-ego. However, our friends at the Humane Society hope that you remember turtle and tortoise species every day; they provide 12 ways to help protect these graceful creatures throughout the year.
Some interesting facts about turtles and tortoises:
Turtles have been on the earth for more than 200 million years. They evolved before mammals, birds, crocodiles, snakes and even lizards.
The earliest turtles had teeth and could not retract their heads, but other than this, modern turtles are very similar to their original ancestors.
Several species of turtles can live to be over a hundred years of age including the American Box Turtle.
One documented case of longevity involves an adult Indian Ocean Giant Tortoise that when captured as an adult was estimated to be fifty years old. It then lived another 152 years in captivity.
Turtles live on every continent except Antarctica.
Turtles will live in almost any climate warm enough to allow them to complete their breeding cycle.
While most turtles don't tolerate the cold well, the Blanding's turtle has been observed swimming under the ice in the Great Lakes region.
Turtles range in size from the 4-inch Bog Turtle to the 1500 pound Leathery Turtle.
North America contains a large variety of turtle species but Europe contains only two species of turtles and three species of tortoises.
The top domed part of a turtle's shell is called the carapace and the bottom underlying part is called the plastron.
The shell of a turtle is made up of 60 different bones all connected together.
The bony portion of the shell is covered with plates (scutes) that are derivatives of skin and offer additional strength and protection.
Most land tortoises have high domed carapaces that offer protection from the snapping jaws of terrestrial predators. Aquatic turtles tend to have flatter more aerodynamically shaped shells. An exception to the dome-shaped tortoise shell is the pancake tortoise of East Africa that will wedge itself between narrow rocks when threatened and then inflates itself with air making extraction nearly impossible.
Most turtle species have five toes on each limb with a few exceptions including the American Box Turtle of the carolina species that only has four toes and in some cases only three.
Turtles have good eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. Hearing and sense of touch are both good and even the shell contains nerve endings.
Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through their skin on their neck and cloacal areas allowing them to remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time and enabling them to hibernate underwater.
Turtles are one of the oldest and most primitive groups of reptiles and have outlived many other species. One can only wonder if their unique shell is responsible for their success.