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Studbook breeding programme
Manouria emys
(Asian brown tortoise)
Annual report 2008
Martin van Wees, studbook keeper
Henk Zwartepoorte, co studbook keeper
KvK nr. 41136106
ESF Studbook/Breeding programme for the
Birmese Brown Tortoise – Manouria emys and M. phayrei..
1. Introduction.
2. Current Studbook population
3. Births
4. Deaths
5. Transfers
6. Imports
7. Discussion
1. Introduction:
Manouria emys is the largest tortoise in Indo Malaysia and the fourth largest in
the world.
In Manouria emys two subspecies are recognized; M. emys and M. e. phayrei.
M. e. emys was first described by Schlegel and Muller in 1844. Subspecies M. e.
phayrei is later in 1853 described by Blyth.
In recent years some authors consider both subspecies as full species.
Both taxa can be recognized easily by the formation of plastral scutes, however
this is sometimes difficult in hatchlings.
M. e. emys is ranging from Peninsula Malaysia, Sumatra to Borneo while M. e.
phayrei ranges from Assam, India to Myanmar, Bangladesh and central
There is integration between the two subspecies from southern Thailand to
northern Malaysia.
M. e. emys is reaching a maximum carapace length of about 50 cm and weighs
20 kg; M.e. phayrei reaches a maximum length of 60 cm and weighs about 25
During the 8ties and 9ties the both species were heavily collected in their whole
habitat range and exported to Europe, USA and Japan. Reproduction was
reported by both the private and zoo sector. However hybridisation between
both species also occurred.
The fact that both species became more and more endangered in the wild (see
also point 6.1) and the fact that hybridisation took place were reasons to
initiate a studbook/breeding programme.
2. Current Studbook population:
The studbook was started in the course of the year 2008 and it took some time to
trace the animals kept in EAZA institutions and private collections. During the
9ties the species were bred by the Glasgow Zoo in Scotland and from 2002 by
the Barcelona Zoo and more recent also by several other EAZA zoos and
The Glasgow zoo offspring was transferred to other institutions and to private in
the UK. As the Glasgow Zoo kept both M. emys and M. phayrei it is very well
possible that after a few breeding results of pure M. emys also hybrids were bred
between both species. After closing of the Glasgow Zoo at least a number of the
offspring was transferred to private collections. Recently the studbook was
informed about these transfers.
The studbook now (March 2009) has a reasonable good overview of where
specimens are kept. Between January and March 2009 a total of 9.15.87 (111)
are entered into the Sparks software. The large numbers of offspring is bred by 4
EAZA institutions and one private (see births).
2. Births.
The first breeding results were reported by the Glasgow Zoo. In 1991 and 1992
23 were born. Of not all it is 100% sure that they are pure bred M. emys. Further
inquiries will have to make this clear. By the Barcelona Zoo between 2002 and
2008 35 births are reported. At the Rotterdam Zoo between 2006 and 2007
respectively 1 and 12 births are reported. At the Düsseldorf Zoo/Löbecke
Museum between 2007 and 2008 respectively 26 and 11 births are reported. At
private studbook location Bauer in 2007 6 births are reported and during 2008
11 animals were born.
3. Deaths.
At the Rotterdam Zoo the 2006 hatchling died several months after birth; the
plastron never completely closed and finally got infected. The animal died
without observing taking food. At the Düsseldorf Zoo one 2007 born hatchling
died one month after birth; a cause of death is unknown. December 1, 2008 one
Hong kong/EAZA animal died at location Bauer. This was the last remaining
animal at location Bauer; the other three animals died in 2003, 2004 and 2007.
4 Transfers.
Several transfers were carried out. From the Rotterdam Zoo 4 CB specimens
moved to private location Vogt. The Düsseldorf Zoo sent 4 2007 CB specimens
to the Leipzig Zoo, 7 were sent to the Rostock Zoo and 13 were sent to a private
keeper in Germany. Private participant and breeder Bauer transferred 17 2007
and 2008 CB specimens to 7 different private keepers.
The 8 privates will be approached to become ESF studbook participant.
5. Imports.
The studbook is not aware of any recent imports. For further information on
imports during the 8ties and 9ties see figure 1 under point 6.1.
6. Discussion.
6.1 Conservation status:
Asian fresh water turtles and tortoises are under immense pressure from habitat
destruction and human exploitation. Manouria emys and M. phayrei are not an
exception. From most records concerning its distribution and numbers in the
wild, it seems to be fragmentally distributed and rather rare where occurring
(Moll, 1989). No density estimations exist for this species.
A lot of pressure is caused by logging, palm oil industry and export to China for
human consumption in particular during the 9ties. The species is listed in the
category Endangered under the criteria A 1cd+2cd, on the IUCN red list of
threatened species (IUCN, 2003). Until 2000 M. emys was listed as vulnerable
by IUCN (1996).
The export quota from Peninsula Malaysia was raised from 200 wild caught
specimens in 2001 to 500 in 2002 and 500 in 2003. During 2002 and 2003 the
export numbers did not reach the allowed export quota indicating that the
numbers in the wild drop. See also figure 1. This all seems like a paradox as the
species was moved from the vulnerable to endangered red list by IUCN only a
year earlier. Peter Paul van Dijk (pers. comment) estimates that in 50 years the
species might count only a dozen viable populations in protected area in its
whole range.
Imports of the species are now totally banned in the European Community (EC
nr. 349/2003).
This has shifted the trade to Japan and the United States
Figure 1:
Export quota from Malaysia and Indonesia between 1996 and 2007
Year Quota Export Country
1996 700          ?   Malaysia
2000 450          ?   Malaysia
2001 200          ?   Malaysia
          450          ?   Indonesia
2002 500      170   Malaysia
           450         ?   Indonesia
2003  500     235   Malaysia
2004  500         ?   Malaysia
           475         ?   Indonesia
2005   - -                 Malaysia
           475         ?   Indonesia
2006 400           ?   Malaysia
           475         ?   Indonesia
2007 350           ?   Malaysia
          475           ?   Indonesia
Status in captivity in Europe:
According to ISIS (January 2009) the numbers in EAZA institutions are not very
The total numbers of reported M. emys and M. phayrei is 10.12.84 kept by 15
institutions. The unknown number of 84 also regards specimens born in the
Barcelona Zoo and Glasgow Zoo between 1991 and 2003.
These captive born numbers are at least born out of currently kept 15 Dams and
Sires specimens originating from imports into Europe before 2000. January
2002 7 specimens of M. emys were imported by EAZA originating from the
Hong Kong confiscation in December 2001. These were transferred to the
Barcelona Zoo (3) and to a private collection in München/Germany (4). Only
two specimens are still alive at the Barcelona Zoo.
Between 2002 and 2008 at the Barcelona Zoo 35 births are reported. At the
Glasgow Zoo 23 births are reported from unknown parents and recently the
studbook was informed that after an initial pure breeding of M. emys lateron
also hybrids between M. emys and M. phayrei are born. The Glasgow Zoo is
closed and obtaining more reliable information on this is so far unsuccessful.
Research to where the adults as well as the offspring were transferred is still
going on.
Of M. emys currently 6.9 adults are kept at 4 EAZA institutions and 1.2 at one
private collection in München/Germany. Of M. a. phayrei 2.2.2 specimens are
kept at 3 EAZA institutions.
The ISIS figures also show that at Arnhem/Burgers Zoo and Cobosse Zoo only
one specimen is kept. Recommendations will be made to change this unbalanced
By both the EAZA institutions and the private keeper 17 founder animals of M.
emys are kept. Of M. phayrei only 2.2.2 are known.
These numbers for M. emys are a good genetic basis for the future of a
studbook/breeding programme.
Hybridisation of both subspecies must be avoid and this is considered an
important aim of the studbook for the near future..
Manouria emys produces up to 30 eggs. M. e. phayrei up to 50. Nesting
behaviour is very
distinguishable from other tortoise species. Females built large heaps of debris,
leaves and soil in which they deposit their eggs. An aspect that has to be taken
into account when deciding keeping the species.
Next to the large body size and also because of the high reproduction proper ex
situ management is essential. Both aspects are important in a breeding
programme with the aim of the establishment of an assurance colony.
Aims for 2009:
Drafting and publishing husbandry guidelines for both species.
A further entering all Barcelona Zoo specimens into the Sparks studbook.
The private recipients of the zoo born and Bauer born specimens will be
approached to become studbook participant.
Recommendations will be made to devide and re devide the CB
specimens at the various locations to establish genetic groups at these
Drafting a list of relevant references and literature.
May 2009.
Martin van Wees, studbook keeper,
Pastoor Bastiaansensingel 75,
4711 EE Sint Willebrord,
The Netherlands.
Henk Zwartepoorte, co studbook keeper,
Lumeystraat 11c,
3039 ZM Rotterdam,
The Netherlands.
Moll, E.O. 1989. Manouria emys: Asian Brown Tortoise. In I.P. Swingland and
M.W. Klemens (eds), The Conservation Biology of Tortoises, Occasional
Papers of the I.U.C.N.
Species Survival Commission (SSC) No. 5 I.U.C.N., Gland. pp.119-120.
Schaffer C. and V. Morgan. 2000. Behavioral Observations of Captive juveniles
Maouria emys phayrei with Notes on Degrees of Intergradation with Manouria
emys emys.
Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 5: 2-6. Chelonian Research Foundation.

                                                                                  Studboook update  2014