The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) comprises an extensive expanse of hills located in the far southeast of Bangladesh, bordered by India and Myanmar. CHT covers more than 10% of the total land area of Bangladesh and lies within the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot. Because of political instability and the generally remote nature of this region, it remains as the least explored area in Bangladesh. Very little is known about the chelonian fauna of CHT. We investigated the occurrence, conservation status, and exploitation of chelonians in the southern part of CHT, in Sangu–Matamuhuri Reserve Forest and adjacent areas, from 2011 to 2015. During our survey, we obtained specimen-based records of 8 species: Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa), Asian Brown Tortoise (Manouria emys), Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii), Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata), Sylhet Roofed Turtle1 (Pangshura sylhetensis), Asian Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys spp.), Malayan Softshell Turtle (Amyda ornata), and Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata). The critically endangered H. depressa and the endangered C. mouhotii are recorded from Bangladesh for the first time, and the endangered P. sylhetensis is recorded from CHT for the first time. We documented 2 isolated populations of M. emys in the Sangu-Matamuhuri Reserve Forest. We did not find any evidence of large-scale, commercial turtle harvesting in our survey area. Subsistence hunting is probably the most immediate threat to chelonians in this region. With no intervention, subsistence hunting will likely cause large-scale local extirpation of extant, low-density populations. Considering the species diversity and the opportunities for long-term conservation, CHT may be considered to be a priority site for conservation of these species in danger. To mitigate turtle hunting, we recommend a bottom-up, community-based conservation model, the foundation of which should be based on trust, traditional ecological knowledge, community participation, and ecological science.
Chittagong Hill Tracts