Turtle Guardianship Project in Bangladesh

Pictures of two Burmese Mountain tortoises.

Protectng most critically endangered and severely threatened in Bangladesh.

The turtle guardianship project in Bangladesh is a very exciting grassroots project that works with species that are critically endangered and threatened.

G.R.E.E.N has partnered with CARINIM (Center for Advanced Research in Natural Resources & Management). CARINAM is based in Bangladesh. Most of the chelonian species are critically endangered and severely threatened by poachers. The tortoises are captured for consumption, the pet trade, for medicinal purposes, and for “taboo beliefs.”

CARINAM has created a conservation program in the Chittagong Hills in Southeast Bangladesh bordering Myanmar, but they need our help funding the continuation of this program.

Our Goals

This region of the world has tropical deciduous forests that are home to the Manouria Emys Phayrei (Burmese Black Tortoise), Indotestudo Elongata (Elongated Tortoise), Heosemys Depressa (Arakan Forest Turtle), Pangshura sylhetensis (Sylhet Roof Turtle), and Cuora Mouhotti (Keeled Box Turtle). This project has huge benefits for not only the animals our organization strives to protect, but to educate and reinforces conservation within the local communities.

The Mro People

The Mro people of the Chittagong Hills are the key to success in protecting these animals in this region. Before CARINAM began educating the Mro people about the severe dangers of consuming, hunting and capturing these species, they would have rapidly perished forever.

This project is being sponsored in part by our non-profit organization to keep things rolling in the Chittagong Hills. The Mro villagers once hunted these species, but due to our conservation efforts, they are now being protected.

CARINAM is educating and funding sponsorship to pay the hunters to now be their guardians.

Project Overview

 Mro Tortoise Guardian Program

A Model for Turtle Hunting Mitigation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

Target Species:

  1. Arakan Forest Turtle Heosemys depressa – Critically Endangered
  2. Keeled Box Turtle Cuora mouhotii – Endangered
  3. Asian Brown Tortoise Manouria emys –Endangered
  4. Elongated Tortoise Indotestudo elongata – Endangered
  5. Sylhet Roof Turtle Pangshura sylhetensis – Endangered

Principal investigator: Shahriar Caesar Rahman


The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) lies in the southeast portion of Bangladesh. This is an extensive, hilly area that is part of an 1800 km mountain range running from the Eastern Himalayas in China to Western Myanmar.

This region falls within the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot and is home to many globally threatened chelonian fauna. Hunting is the most immediate threat to the turtles in this region.

With no intervention, hunting will likely cause large-scale, local extinctions of extant, low-density populations. This project proposes to:

  • initiate a community owned conservation program within the Sangu Wildlife Sanctuary, Bandarban, Bangladesh;
  • focus on mitigating hunting pressures by converting the local Mro huntsmen into tortoise guardian
  • provide the local communities with alternative self-sustaining income/sustenance sources, such as goat farming.

From Hunter To Protector

Tortoise Guardians will be responsible for the monitoring of local turtle and tortoise species. The project will primarily focus on these five species:

  1. Heosemys depressa – Critically Endangered,
  2. Manouria emys – Endangered,
  3. Coura mouhotii – Endangered,
  4. Indotestudo elongata – Endangered,
  5. Pansghura sylhetensis – Endangered.

The success of our pilot study may indicate that it will be possible to form a larger-scale project. This model has a high potential for conserving threatened and endangered Chelonians within the CHT region, and far beyond.

Hunting And Farming Background

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) make up the region of Bangladesh bordering Myanmar on the southeast, and India on the north (Tripura) and east (Mizoram).

An area of 13,295 square kilometers, this region comprises approximately 10 percent of the total land area in Bangladesh (Gain 2000). This area falls within the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot and is home to many globally threatened species (Myers et al. 2000).

Very little work has been done on the biodiversity of this region, mainly due to remoteness and political instability of the area (Khan 2008). The region is sparsely populated by various ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burmese origin: such as the Chakma, Marma, Tripura and Mro (Lewin 1869). These ethnic people grow rice on the hills under a shifting agriculture system known as jhum. Vegetation is cleared, burned and cultivated for one year before laying fallowed for 2-5 years; after which, farming is moved to a new area following the same procedure.

Patches of forested area are left untouched in riparian areas to retain water. These patches often serve as suitable habitat for terrestrial turtles and tortoises. Hunting is very common and widespread in the region (Khan 2008). The people hunt primarily for local consumption to meet their protein needs. Therefore, turtles are opportunistically captured and hunted with the aid of local hunting dogs, and sometimes pitfall traps. Hunting is likely the largest conservation threat for turtles and tortoises within this region.

Research Conservation Rationale

Local conservationists have been conducting surveys in the Sangu Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) and adjacent areas in the Bandarban District of the southern CHT for the past three years. In this time, they have identified several localities of the endangered Asian Brown Tortoise (Manouria emys) and Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata).

They have also recorded the citing of the critically endangered Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa) and endangered Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhoti) for the first time in Bangladesh in 2011 and 2014, respectively (Rahman et al. in preparation).

In 2014, they found a total of one hatchling, one juvenile, two live adults and nine shells of H. depressa in five localities.  According to the locals, more than 100 M. emys are harvested from that area every year. Based on interview surveys, no evidence has been found of commercial turtle harvesting for the pet trade or for Chinese medicinal uses in this region.

With no intervention, large-scale, local extinctions of these already low-density populations will likely occur. (Klemens and Thorbjarnarson 1995)

Due to the remoteness of this area, the Forest Department of Bangladesh exercises little to no jurisdiction or enforcement in the CHT. Therefore, top-down regulation for hunting will have little effect here. Mitigation of turtle hunting in the CHT will require the formation of close relationships with local people such as the Mro, and provide alternative sources of sustenance and livelihood for these people.

CARINAM has been working very closely with the Mro community near the Sangu Wildlife Sanctuary on a grassroots level within the Bandarban district. They have gained a thorough knowledge of the social-economic needs of these people, and now propose to initiate a community owned conservation program in the SWS to:

  1. mitigate hunting pressures by converting the local Mro huntsmen into tortoise guardians;
  2. provide their communities with alternative self-sustaining income/sustenance sources, such as goat farming.

In return, Tortoise Guardians will be responsible for the monitoring of local turtle and tortoise species.

Similar approaches have been proven successful with Egyptian tortoises in Egypt (Attum et al. 2008), lions in Kenya (Hazzah et al. 2014) and hornbills in northeast India (Datta and Rane 2011). This program will serve as a strong conservation model for this region.


  1. To establish and maintain a community owned in-situ conservation program to protect the wild populations of highly threatened turtle and tortoise species;
  2. To raise awareness on the importance of turtle conservation among local tribal communities;
  3. To increase our understanding on the ecology of these species;
  4. To provide local training in conservation research techniques.


  1. To mitigate hunting pressures by converting the local Mro huntsmen into tortoise guardians and providing their communities with alternative self-sustaining income/sustenance sources;
  2. To hire local residents to conduct mark-recapture study and field survey to monitor turtle populations;
  3. Develop an appreciation and sense of investment in Chelonian conservation within the local area.

Specific Methodology

Study area:

Our project site will be within the Sangu Wildlife Sanctuary (21° 26.981’N, 92° 33.398’E), a 2600 hectare mixed-evergreen forest declared as a protected area by the Bangladesh Forest Department in 2010. This area is 30 km southeast of the town of Alikodom, adjacent to the Mro tribal land, within the Bandarban District of Bangladesh.

Figure 1:  Map of Our Study Area. The locations on the map are where the following species have been found.

  1. Heosemys depressa: 2, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26.
  2. Manouria emys phayrei: 2, 23, 24, 25, 26
  3. Cuoura mouhotii: 12, 13, 14, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26
  4. Pangshura sylhetensis: 23, 24, 25, 26
  5. Indotestudo elongata: Found in all sites.

The upstream of Sangu River (23, 24 25, 26) is probably the most suitable site for in-site conservation programs. Therefore, we will initially focus in that area.

The program will also focus on improving the livelihood of the Mro tribes by providing alternate sources of income and sustenance currently attained from traditional hunting practices.

Initially, we will target four localities where there are significant populations of M. emys, H. depressa and C. mouhoti. Four villages will be selected from each of these localities for the Tortoise Guardian Program.

Tortoise Guardian Program

A contract will be drafted and signed by the village chiefs within each of these villages. This contract will detail the stipulations of the Tortoise Guardian Program and will be signed in witness by a government elected union member.

If the village fails to adhere to the contract guidelines, then it will be pulled from the program. In that event, all aid provided from the project, such as livestock for farming, will be taken away, and the village will be put under a probationary period.

After the contract is reviewed and signed, 1-2 individuals will be selected from each village to recruit as tortoise guardians. Typically, these members will be either the village chief or a respected individual of each community.

In addition, a Chief Tortoise Guardian will oversee all four villages and keep a steady line of communication with myself on activities, and act as a local coordinator of the program.

After immediate selection, tortoise guardians will be brought to Dhaka for a week long intensive training program. This program will focus on goat farming methodologies, turtle monitoring methodologies such as standard mark-recapture techniques (marking and collection of biometric data), and training in the use of project equipment.

Once training has been completed, appointed Tortoise Guardians will be responsible for releasing any turtles captured by villagers to the site of capture shortly after individually marking each turtle and collecting morphological data. We plan to use a standard notching method for individual identification and guardians will be provided with a field data collection kit containing: field identification guides, pens, calipers, weighing scales, cameras, GPS units, and data collection notebooks.

Activities will be monitored within each village by frequent, unannounced visits by CARINAM or the Chief Tortoise Guardian, Parsing Mro, a native of the area who has been working with CARINAM for the last three years and well respected among the Mro communities.

Parsing Mro will coordinate work in the field and will receive a monthly stipend. The success of the program will be evaluated by the number of turtles villagers hand relinquish.

Pilot Study Success


In a pilot study, CARINAM helped establish both a chicken farm and a goat farm in two villages. From this pilot, we learned that goat farming using a combination of modern and ingenious farming techniques, is more appropriate for the Mro people due to the remoteness of the area, and inaccessibility to markets to purchase new livestock. Commercial intensive goat farming may not prove to be sustainable.


For each village participating in the program, local goat breeds are provided to the village, as they have strong resistance to disease, are low maintenance and have very low impact on the environment.

In addition, goats will be housed in bamboo enclosures that they build. The goats will be community owned; by rotation, each family will be responsible for feeding, care, and herding of the goats. In return for assisting each village with setting the foundations for sustainable farming, Tortoise Guardians will have two major responsibilities:

  1. to obtain any turtles or tortoises captured by village hunters,
  2. to provide education to neighboring villages about the importance of preserving turtles.

As a result of the initial pilot study, within just two months, villagers had relinquished seven I. elongata, four H. depressa and one Cyclemys sp. which hunters had found on regular trips to the surrounding forest.

All of the turtles were released back into the wild.

The early success of this pilot study may indicate that it will be viable to form a larger-scale project. I believe this model will have a high potential for conserving threatened and endangered Chelonians within the CHT region, and far beyond.

Long Term Vision

Chittagong Hill Tracts harbor many globally threatened chelonian species. Due to the remoteness of this area, the Forest Department of Bangladesh exercises little to no jurisdiction or enforcement in the CHT. Therefore, top-down regulation for hunting will have little effect here and consequently traditional approach of protected area conservation might not be effective here in this region. Hence, the conservation programs must directly involve the local indigenous people.

The long term vision is to create a self sustaining, community-owned conservation initiative in CHT region to mitigate hunting and conserve the turtle population by improving the livelihood of the indigenous people.

My project partner will be IUCN-Bangladesh and the project will be conducted in collaboration with Forest Department of Bangladesh. I plan to raise additional funds for long term project using year one results as leverage.

Project Deliverables

These will be the project deliverables from the first year of the study:

Establishment of a primary school for mitigating turtle hunting:

    1. A contract signed by at least four Mro villages to give up turtle consumption and form a network of Tortoise Guardians covering an area of 40 square kilometers.
    2. Capacity building and training of at least four Mro villagers as tortoise guardians who will act as ambassadors for turtle conservation in the area.
    3. A website will be launched to disseminate information about the project and social media platforms will be utilized to help spread this information.
    4. Photo-documentation of the project; to be used on the website and in written reports for documentation purposes.
    5. Turtle and tortoises captured will be recovered from the villages, identified and released into the wild.
    6. Baseline data on turtle populations for this region will be collected as a direct result of the program culminating in a report.
  • Data will be collected to form a long-term radio telemetry and mark-recapture study on understanding the ecology of these species.

Literature cited:

Attum, O., B. Rabea, S. Osman, S. Habinan, S. Baha El Din, B. Kingsbury. 2008. Conserving and studying tortoises: A local community visual-tracking or radio-tracking approach? Journal of Arid Environments 72:671-676.

Datta, A. and Rane, A. 2011. Conserving a hornbill haven. Hornbill Nest Adoption   Program Report: Nature Conservation Foundation of India.

Gain, P. 2000. The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk. Society for Environment and Human Development. Pp 121.

Hazzah L., Dolrenry S., Naughton L., Edwards C., Mwebi O., Kearney F., Frank L. 2014. Efficacy of Two Lion Conservation Programs in Maasailand, Kenya. Conservation Biology 28 (851-860)

Khan, M. M. H. 2008. Protected areas of Bangladesh: a guide to wildlife. Nishorgo Program, Bangladesh Forest Department, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Pp 120.

Klemens, M.W. and Thorbjarnarson, J.B. 1995. Reptiles as a food resource. Biodiversity and Conservation. 4: 281-298.

Lewin, T. H. 1869. The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the dwellers therein. Bengal Printing Company Limited, Calcutta.

Myers, N. et al. 2000. Nature. 403, 853–858.

Platt, S. G., Khin, M. M., Win Ko, K., Maung, A., & Thomas, R. R. 2010. Field observations and conservation of heosemys depressa in the rakhine yoma elephant range of western Myanmar. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 9(1), 114-119.

Project Financials

Name of the Project Mro Tortoise Guardian Program: A Model for Turtle Hunting Mitigation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh
Name of the implementing organization Centre for Advanced Research in Natural Resources & Management (CARINAM)
Currency BDT 78 = USD 1
Proposed Budget for 3 year (March 2015 – April 2018)
Items Unit Quantity Price/ Unit (BDT) Total (BDT) Equivalent (USD) Year 1 (USD) Year 2 (USD) Year 3 (USD)
A. Consultancy Services
Project Supervisor (5 days x 36 months) Days              180 5,000.00 900,000.00 11,538 3,846.00 3,846.00 3,846.00
Program Coordinator (1 x 36 months) Month                36 32,000.00 1,152,000.00 14,769 4,923.00 4,923.00 4,923.00
Mro Turtle Guardians (2 persons x 36 months) Month                72 10,000.00 720,000.00 9,231 3,077.00 3,077.00 3,077.00
GIS Specialist (2 days x 36 months) Days                72 3,000.00 216,000.00 2,769 923.00 923.00 923.00
Finance Officer (1 day x 36 months) Days                36 2,000.00 72,000.00 923 308.00 308.00 308.00
Volunteers (2 persons x 30 days) Days                60 1,000.00 60,000.00 769 256.00 256.00 256.00
Sub-Total (A)       3,120,000.00 40,000 13,333.00 13,333.00 13,334.00 36%
B. Procurement – Goods          
Solar Power + accessories                  2 40,000.00 80,000.00 1,026 513.00 200.00 313.00
Solar Adaptor                  2 500.00 1,000.00 13 13.00 0.00 0.00
Materials for 100 students (Black board, Mosquito Net, Pen, Note Book, etc.)                  3 150,000.00 450,000.00 5,769 1,923.00 1,923.00 1,923.00
Alternative livehood (poultry, livestock farming, fruit orchard, etc.) Number                40 5,000.00 200,000.00 2,564 2,000.00 564.00 0.00
Radio Tracking (transmitter) Number                30 20,000.00 600,000.00 7,692 3,846.00 3,846.00 0.00
Radio Receiver and antenna Number                  3 80,000.00 240,000.00 3,077 3,077.00 0.00 0.00
Torch light Number                  3 3,000.00 9,000.00 115 115.00 0.00 0.00
Field back pack (65 litre)                  2 20,000.00 40,000.00 513 513.00 0.00 0.00
Tent (1) Number                  2 12,000.00 24,000.00 308 308.00 0.00 0.00
Mobile Phone Number                  5 2,000.00 10,000.00 128 128.00 0.00 0.00
GPS units Number                  3 25,000.00 75,000.00 962 962.00 0.00 0.00
Battery for torch light and GPS, trip alarm LS                  1 60,000.00 60,000.00 769 400.00 269.00 100.00
Internet modem Number                  2 2,500.00 5,000.00 64 64.00 0.00 0.00
Sub-Total (B)       1,794,000.00 23,000 13,862.00 6,802.00 2,336.00 21%
C. Project Activity – Operational Cost        
Permits, Radio frequency fee, renewal fee LS   30,000.00 30,000.00 385 192.50 192.50 0.00
School Construction-bamboo+currogated tin roof + maintenance Number                  1 200,000.00 200,000.00 2,564 2,000.00 0.00 564.00
Teacher (2 x 36) 2                36 10,000.00 720,000.00 9,231 3,077.00 3,077.00 3,077.00
Hostel Cost (Caretaker and Cook) 1                36 12,000.00 432,000.00 5,538 1,846.00 1,846.00 1,846.00
Rental Vehicle (with fuel and driver) Number                24 20,000.00 480,000.00 6,154 2,560.00 1,546.00 2,048.00
Boat rent (With Fuel) Number                24 16,000.00 384,000.00 4,923 2,051.00 1,230.00 1,640.00
Per diem (20 trips x 10 days x 2 persons) 20                20 1,000.00 400,000.00 5,128
Publication (Leaflet, brochure) 2            3,000 10.00 60,000.00 769 500.00 269.00 0.00
Printing and Stationary Number                36 5,000.00 180,000.00 2,308 500.00 500.00 1,308.00
Communications (internet, postage, mobile phone) 5                36 500.00 90,000.00 1,154 385.00 384.00 385.00
Local workshop, meetings with community                36 8,000.00 288,000.00 3,692 1,845.00 922.50 922.50
Miscellenious Cost LS                  3 50,000.00 150,000.00 1,923 641.00 641.00 641.00
Subtotal (C) 3,414,000.00 43,769 15,597.50 10,608.00 12,431.50 39%
Administrative Cost 341,400.00 4,377 1,559.75 1,060.80 1,243.15 4%
Grand Total       8,669,400.00 111,146 44,352.25 31,803.80 29,344.65 100%

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