A tiny terrapin streaks across the surface of the water leaving ripples in its wake. Within minutes the reptile disappears under the surface. Watching to see if it will re-surface are staff from Nature Seychelles and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Seychelles. They've just released the juvenile Seychelles black mud terrapin into the wetland at the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman. It is the second of the week.
On the previous day, on a particularly rainy day, a Seychelles yellow-bellied mud terrapin was similarly put in the water. Both were rescues brought in by the public to the Ministry.
The Sanctuary at Roche Caiman is home to a handful of terrapins, Torti soupap in Creole, mostly rescued from locations around Mahe. During the rainy season, the terrapins tend to get washed downstream from rivers and end up stranded in unfavourable locations. When they cannot be put back in a marsh close by, members of the public bring them to the Sanctuary. This was the case for a yellow-bellied mud terrapin brought in by a gentleman who found it stranded by the road side in Bel Ombre.
Seychelles has 3 recorded species of terrapins. The Seychelles black mud terrapin Pelusios subniger parietalis, and the Seychelles yellow bellied mud terrapin Pelusios castanoides intergularis, can still be found, while the third, the Seychelles terrapin Pelusiosis seychellensis, is probably extinct.
The two surviving species, the yellow-bellied mud terrapin https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/41603/97385403 and black mud terrapin (https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/41604/10504742) are listed as Critically Endangered on the Red List, as a result of their restricted range along with fragmentation and ongoing decline in habitat as a result of pollution, drainage, and invasive plant species.
The terrapins are similar in appearance but can be differentiated from their carapace and plastron. The black mud terrapin has a uniform dark grey shell, with a yellow-grey plastron with black patches. Its neck and limbs are grey or black.
The yellow-bellied terrapin is yellow-brown in adults although it may be olive and dark brown in younger individuals. Its plastron is yellow, sometimes with dark suture lines but always lacking the symmetrical patches of black, the skin of the neck and limbs is yellowish.
The terrapins are quite shy, and difficult to see. But we hope to catch a glimpse of them from time to time.