We arrive at the Park Ranger Station, where we officially sign in to the Pacaya Samiria Reserve. The reserve has implemented a turtle conservation programme in order to overcome the intensive poaching of turtle eggs during the laying season.
The rangers collect the eggs of the yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle and the giant Amazonian river turtle and look after them until they have been hatched. The turtles are then released into the reserve, increasing the likelihood of the species population rising to healthy levels again. We have come to collect the last ‘batch’ of turtles to be released this season.
The yellow spotted Amazonian river turtle is one of the largest South American river turtles. These creatures can grow to over 45 centimetres and weigh up to eight kilograms. They are considered to be side-necked turtles, which means that they cannot pull their heads into their shells. Instead they crane them to the side to protect themselves in the event of an attack from predators.
The giant Amazonian river turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. Females’ shells can be over 75 centimetres long and they can weigh up to 90 kilograms. These turtles rarely leave the water except to lay eggs, however they are very vulnerable to human poaching as, historically, females would gather in groups of tens to hundreds of thousands.
We set off in the skiffs with buckets of baby turtles and soon we arrive at a lake, where the turtles will be released. A small tree frog jumps into the skiff and lands on my shirt. It stays with us for a while, hopping around the skiff before it jumps on the driver, who flicks him back into the water.
As our skiff makes it way through the water lettuce our guide spots a pair of eyes, barely visible among the plants. It is an adult caiman, probably almost two metres long. We travel further along the lake, a safe distance away from the caiman, and release the turtles.
As soon as they touch the water they start to paddle and swim away from the skiff. It is incredible to see how these tiny creatures have such inbuilt survival instincts and know exactly what to do when they are released.