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TL children take up story of endangered turtle

By Leanne Coleman

Students Bertanizo Costa and Elda Guterrez recently travelled to Timor-Leste to deliver the first batch of books Students Bertanizo Costa and Elda Guterrez recently travelled to Timor-Leste to deliver the first batch of books

A children’s book about a critically endangered Long-Necked Turtle, co-authored by a Charles Darwin University researcher, has debuted in primary schools across Timor-Leste.

The book entitled “Lenuk Kakorok Naruk Timor-Leste Nian” (Long-Necked Turtle of Timor-Leste) has hit the book shelves of local schools Los Palos and Mehara, located at the Lautém district where the turtle is known to occur.

Written by CDU Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods Dr Carla Eisemberg and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais Fernando Perini, the book aims to inform the next generation about the plight of the endangered species.

“The book has pictures and maps that will help students identify the turtle and understand their limited distribution and the threats they face,” Dr Eisemberg said. “It is also interactive, and includes activities aiming to teach students about harvesting and breeding rates.”

Dr Eisemberg said the book aimed to reach a broader audience and also contained stories about the historic and cultural significance of the turtle.

“It has been written in Tetum, the most common dialect in Timor-Leste thanks to help of undergraduate Environmental Science students Bertanizo Costa and Elda Guterrez, who also travelled to Timor-Leste with me to deliver the first batch of books,” she said.

“It also tells the story of the origins of the Long-Necked Turtle. The Lake Iralalaro people say the turtle came to be after a dog chased a snake into a coconut shell.”

The Long-Necked Turtle Chelodina mccordi timorlestensis is unique to Timor-Leste and is found only in Lake Iralalaro and surrounding areas. It has been the focus of CDU researchers and students in an effort to save it from extinction. 

“Due to its small area of occurrence, harvest pressure, and habitat loss, it has a high chance of becoming extinct in the wild and is listed as critically endangered under the IUCN red list criteria,” Dr Eisemberg said.

“There is a real opportunity for the community to make this a flagship conservation species and capitalise on conservation-based tourism.”

Dr Eisemberg said the next phase of the project was to distribute copies of the book to other primary schools in Timor-Leste and to distribute an English version closer to home.

“The book has been revised, approved and endorsed by the Timor-Leste Department of Education and Department of Environment, and it will be incorporated permanently on the new grade six curriculum,” she said.

The project is funded by Conservation International, Turtle Conservation Fund, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation and The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, with support from the Timor-Leste Protected Areas and National Park Department.

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