Pelf Nyok Chen

Pelf Nyok Chen

Turtle Researcher & Conservationist. Ph.D. in Zoology. TEDxKL Speaker. Woman in Science. Environmentally and children-friendly, really!
Pelf Nyok Chen

Are river terrapins present in Pahang?

Posted on April 15, 2018

This is my first successful post-doctoral research grant, and I’m extremely excited about it. I’ve been working on my Ph.D. research for far too long, so much so that I’ve almost forgotten about the thrill of receiving a new research grant, and conducting a study that is outside the scope of what I’d been working on for years. And years.

Thanks to Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF), I’ve been awarded a seed grant to conduct a questionnaire-based survey along the major rivers in the neighbouring state of Pahang. The objectives of the survey are to determine the presence and distribution of freshwater turtles in those rivers, and if present, the population and nesting density of the river terrapins (Batagur affinis).

The Pahang River is the longest river in Peninsular Malaysia (approximately 459 km). Comparatively, the length of the Kemaman River is approximately 167 km. For our surveys, we’ve prepared turtle flash cards for our respondents to pick out, and then we proceeded to ask them questions about those turtles. At the end of the survey, we present each respondent with a complimentary T-shirt, as a token of our appreciation of their time and knowledge.

All except two of our respondents had never seen the river terrapins in the Pahang River. This included elderly villagers (aged 76 and 80, respectively) and middle-aged residents. The majority of our respondents have, at one point in their lives, seen/heard about softshell turtles in the river, but the culture of consuming turtle eggs does not seem to resonate much with these residents, unlike in the Kemaman River.

Two young men (in black tees) who’ve reportedly seen river terrapins in the Pahang River.

Prof. Maketab Mohamed (far left in photo above) is an expert on water quality and has been visiting Temerloh for quite a bit prior to our meeting last week. He had very generously offered to lead our first field trip in the proverbial “unchartered waters.” He brought us to villagers who operate ikan patin cage cultures (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) along the Pahang River. He also took us to his favourite roadside stall in Jerantut Ferry that sells fresh fish.

Thankful to respondents who not only did not shoo us away for being a nuisance, but gave their full co-operation to our student volunteers.

We had quite a productive first sampling, and I look forward to more such field trips in the coming weeks!

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