Experience river turtle conservation in Kemaman

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Everyone knows something about conservation of sea turtles in Malaysia, but did you know that their less famous cousins, the various species of river terrapins, are equally threatened?

In 2011, Dr Chen Pelf Nyok co-founded the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS), a nonprofit and non-government organisation. The only conservation group to focus on freshwater terrapins, TCS runs community-based conservation programmes in the rural areas near Kemaman, Terangganu. They educate the local communities and conduct school visits, collect terrapin eggs to be hatched and released, and do scientific research on the green creatures.

Pelf believes in the power of education. “We target the schools near the rivers, and run after school programmes on conservation. We want to make sure that the kids don’t become like their fathers, who would sell the eggs at the local market, but rather become like me and want to save them”,  she smiles.

Experience turtle conservation in person

Pelf runs tailor-made, 3-day, 2-night programmes for groups who want to get a first-hand experience on terrapin conservation. Alternatively, you can join a one-day public tour on Saturdays.

We talked to Adrian Koit, who has joined a bespoke tour for homeschooling families on two occasions with his family of five. This is what he told us about the trips:

“Before your trip you can discuss with Pelf to set the agenda for the trip – if you have specific interests she will take them into account. The tour starts at the Cherating turtle sanctuary, where Pelf will talk you through the characteristics of turtles and paints a general picture of the issues facing them.

You are then taken to a local kampung to visit families who are helping her with the terrapins. This is where the kids can get their hands dirty and work with what ever is being done at the time: digging sand holes to incubate the eggs, bury the eggs or dig them out.

Pelf shows them what she does when identifying and tracking the terrapins: how to recognise patterns and shapes and how to measure them. Depending on the season you may be able to see them hatch or take part in releasing the hatchlings. It is not a tourist thing, but real conservation work.

In the evening you will join a firefly tour by Hafiz (read more about the tour here). Some trips can also take part in mangrove planting, that looks fun.

Pelf’s enthusiasm for the terrapins really rubs off. She knows her stuff and can answer all the random questions the kids will have. You get an authentic feel of the local area – we certainly would have never had an opportunity to visit the kampung on our own, as a foreigner it is not that easy to access a village in Eastern Malaysia.”

Adrian’s tips for a visit with TCS:

  • The trip is most suitable for kids aged about 8 and up. The locations are about 30-45 minutes apart so there is a bit of driving and the river cruise is quite late in the evening – in general, older kids get more out of it.
  • The meals are at local kopitiams and communities.
  • They can arrange accomodation in a local hotel/guesthouse, that was affordable and basic but comfortable, or you can choose to stay in one of the hotels in Cherating.
  • You may see dead terrapins, so you may want to prepare sensitive kids to that.
  • As usual, take hats, plenty of water and sunscreen and wear comfy things that are not too precious!

For some gorgeous photos of the terrapins in Kemaman, head over to the page of Ghaneswaran Balachandran, a talented nature photographer!

Photos other than the first in this post by Adrian Koit.

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