Preserving Colombia’s Freshwater Turtles:

A Comprehensive Overview

Colombia’s freshwater ecosystems are home to a diverse array of turtle species, each with unique characteristics and ecological significance.

From the Amazon rainforest to the Andean foothills and beyond, these turtles play vital roles in maintaining ecosystem health and biodiversity. However, they face numerous threats to their survival, including habitat loss, pollution and poaching.

Fortunately, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are actively involved in efforts to protect and conserve Colombia’s freshwater turtles, working to address these challenges and ensure the long-term survival of these iconic species.

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Individual Species:

Colombia is home to several species of freshwater turtles, each adapted to its specific habitat and environmental conditions. Among the most notable are the giant South American river turtle (podocnemis expansa), the yellow-spotted river turtle (podocnemis unifilis) and the six-tubercled Amazon river turtle (odocnemis sextuberculata).

The giant South American river turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtle species in the world, with a distinctive dark brown or black carapace and a yellow plastron. It inhabits large rivers and oxbow lakes throughout the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, where it plays important roles in nutrient cycling and seed dispersal.

The yellow-spotted river turtle, as its name suggests, has yellow spots on its dark brown carapace and is commonly found in slow-moving rivers and flooded forests across South America. It is known for its herbivorous diet, feeding primarily on aquatic plants and fruits.

Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle (mesoclemmys dahli) is critically endangered and endemic to the Amazon and Orinoco basins, this unique turtle possesses a mottled brown carapace and a head resembling a toad.

The six-tubercled Amazon river turtle is characterized by its six prominent tubercles on the front of its carapace and is found in fast-flowing rivers and streams throughout the Amazon basin. It is a relatively small species compared to the giant river turtle but is still an important component of Amazonian freshwater ecosystems.

Endemic and Endangered Species:

While some freshwater turtle species are widespread across South America, others are endemic to specific regions or habitats within Colombia. For example, the Magdalena River turtle (podocnemis lewyana) is found only in the Magdalena River basin and is considered critically endangered due to habitat loss, pollution and overexploitation.

Other freshwater turtle species, such as the Colombian slider (trachemys callirostris), are more widespread but still face significant threats to their survival. Habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution from agricultural runoff and mining activities and overharvesting for the pet trade are among the primary threats to freshwater turtles in Colombia.

NGOs Helping with Preservation:

Several NGOs and conservation groups are actively involved in efforts to protect and conserve Colombia’s freshwater turtles, working to address the threats they face and promote their conservation. One such organization is the Colombian Turtle Conservation Program (ProCAT), which focuses on the conservation of freshwater turtles throughout Colombia.


ProCAT conducts research on turtle populations, monitors nesting sites and implements conservation initiatives aimed at protecting turtle habitats and reducing threats to their survival. The organization also works with local communities, government agencies and other stakeholders to raise awareness about the importance of turtle conservation and promote sustainable management practices.

Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)

Another organization working to conserve freshwater turtles in Colombia is the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), which is dedicated to preventing the extinction of turtles and tortoises around the world.

TSA collaborates with local partners to implement conservation programs, conduct research and provide training and capacity-building support to promote the long-term survival of freshwater turtle species.

Fundación Omacha

Fundación Omacha is an indigenous-led organization, established in 1992, that works to protect the biodiversity of the Colombian Amazon, including freshwater turtles like the Yellow-spotted River Turtle. They conduct research, patrol forests, and implement traditional knowledge-based conservation practices.

Fundación Natura

Fundación Natura operates in various regions and they contribute to freshwater conservation through habitat protection and community engagement, potentially impacting turtle populations.

Assisting NGOs:

Individuals can assist NGOs working to preserve Colombia’s freshwater turtles in various ways. One way to support these organizations is through donations, which help fund research, conservation initiatives and community outreach programs. Additionally, volunteering opportunities may be available for those interested in getting involved directly with turtle conservation efforts, such as habitat restoration projects or field monitoring activities.

Raising awareness about the importance of freshwater turtle conservation is also crucial, as public support and advocacy can influence policy decisions and promote positive changes in behavior and attitudes towards turtles and their habitats. By spreading the word about the threats facing freshwater turtles and supporting efforts to protect them, individuals can make a meaningful contribution to their preservation.

Other Interesting Facts:

  • Freshwater turtles play important roles in ecosystem dynamics, influencing nutrient cycling, seed dispersal and habitat structure.
  • Many freshwater turtle species are highly adaptable and can thrive in a range of aquatic habitats, from rivers and lakes to wetlands and swamps.
  • Female freshwater turtles typically lay their eggs on sandy riverbanks or beaches, where they are vulnerable to predation by humans and other animals.
  • Some freshwater turtle species, such as the six-tubercled Amazon river turtle, are culturally significant to indigenous communities and are used in traditional ceremonies and rituals.

Beyond their ecological significance, these turtles hold fascinating secrets:

  • Magdalena River turtles possess unique adaptations for underwater life, including webbed feet and modified nostrils positioned on top of their heads for efficient breathing.
  • Giant South American River turtles can migrate over 400 km/249 miles during the breeding season, demonstrating remarkable navigational skills.
  • Dahl’s Toad-headed turtles communicate underwater using clicking sounds, adding another layer of complexity to their social interactions.

In conclusion, freshwater turtles in Colombia face numerous threats to their survival, but through the efforts of dedicated NGOs and conservation groups, there is hope for their preservation.
By supporting these organizations and raising awareness about the importance of freshwater turtle conservation, individuals can help ensure the long-term survival of these iconic species for future generations to enjoy.

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