Peru releases hatchlings in effort to save wildlife

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Despite being endangered, the turtles have become something of a mascot in Peru

Hundreds of newborn baby hatchlings were released in Peru on Tuesday after being held captive in a quarantine centre for more than five months.

Many of the 6,000 turtles, which ranged in colour from pale white to pink, were smaller than their parents when they were born, but were otherwise healthy and well cared for.

Although less protected than other animals in Peru, the turtles have become something of a mascot.

“This is the culmination of a very difficult project to help these nestlings,” said Peter Whiteley, who led the releasing.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption People watch the release from the path along the Iguazu

Peru is home to roughly half of the world’s freshwater turtles. Many, like the silvery Anna’s turtle, nest in rivers and streams.

Their shells are exquisitely sculpted by minute movements of the toes on the front of the foot.

Since the first nests were counted in the 1950s, the number of nesting turtles in Peru has dropped by more than 90%.

Signs of recovery

The turtles would be considered endangered even by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s standard, as they are under continual threat from urban development and agriculture.

The Peruvian authorities recognise these threats and have done everything possible to try to halt their decline.

But conservationists stress that while the numbers might be declining, this is still far better than many other countries, where turtle populations continue to plummet.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Some children and adults were among the crowds in the great park, led by two black vans

A government report released in 2015 estimated there were no more than 4,000 adults left in four stretches of the Peruvian coastline, with an even lower estimate for three of the four parks in the Andes.

“The numbers are down but they are showing some signs of recovery,” Mr Whiteley, president of the US-based nonprofit Latin American Turtle Conservation, told the BBC.

He cited increases in numbers in the Cañete Valley, off the Pacific coast, and in a stretch of the Lake Titicaca Basin in the north of the country.

Even if the numbers are still not as high as hoped, Mr Whiteley hopes that by releasing the hatchlings back into the wild, there will be a big boost in their numbers – which would make them more visible and more appealing to potential predators.

He told the BBC the plan was to eventually release up to 8,000 baby turtles.

Following the release, a young boy managed to pull one of the youngsters from the water, as others followed in the shadow of some trucks.

“I don’t mind having one of them [the turtles] in the yard with me, and that’s my little game,” he said.

Earlier, groups of adults and children had waited to watch the release from the granduipi or great beach of the Iguazu National Park, the last stretch of land to be opened.

“Go be happy. Go follow them to follow them,” one man said.

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