SEMPORNA: Turtle conservationists on Pulau Mabul were amazed on Monday when a two-headed turtle hatchling emerged from a green turtle nest.
The hatchling – one from a nest of 93 hatchlings released – came up at the Mabul Turtle Hatchery which is run by SJ SEAS, the conservation arm of dive operator Scuba Junkie.
SJ SEAS chairman Mohd Khairuddin bin Riman expressed his surprise at the sight.
“We have released around 13,000 hatchlings from the hatchery and have never seen anything like this before. The Sabah Wildlife Department’s Honorary Wildlife Wardens (HWWs) were all intrigued, as well as busy – we had two batches of hatchlings emerged last night and yet another turtle nesting!”
David McCann, Marine Biologist and Conservation Manager for SJ SEAS stated, “The heads both breathe independently, and react to stimuli separately. It is utterly fascinating. The right head seems to control the front right flipper, and the left head the front left flipper. Yet they are capable of co-ordinating their movements in order to walk and swim.”
Dr Sen Nathan, Chief Veterinarian for the SWD’s Wildlife Rescue Unit stated: “Dicephalism is highly unusual, although not unheard of, with a similar instance in Redang in 2014. The hatchling was studied for three months before it sadly died from pneumonia.”
“Unfortunately, these turtles would not survive in the wild – including this specimen, whose plastron is not fully developed or closed. Observation by the biologists on site also indicated that in deeper water, one head couldn’t get above water comfortably to breathe. The hatchling is being kept in shallow water allowing it to breathe easily.”
Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Tuan Augustine Tuuga, said, “Green and hawksbill turtles are completely protected by law in Sabah, as they are listed under Schedule 1 of the 1997 Wildlife Conservation Enactment. For this reason, the hatchling is being kept under observation by the dedicated biologists and HWWs who run the Mabul Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.”
McCann agreed: “Our primary concern is for the hatchlings’ welfare. Although these guys may not have a good prognosis, we will do our best to ensure that they are comfortable and taken care of.”