Camera traps are very useful tools in determining the presence/absence of rare and cryptic species while shedding light on behavioral traits. Passive infrared triggered cameras are routinely used in homeothermic animals, but in ectothermic reptiles, this surveillance method has proven highly unreliable. As part of the conservation goal to provide better understanding and protection for the critically endangered freshwater turtle Batagur baska, we investigated their largely unknown nesting behavior and tested video-based motion detection by comparing 2 different camera-trapping systems and their settings under controlled conditions at the Vienna Zoo. A pixel-based video surveillance camera was superior to a camera trap with motion sensor. The surveillance camera allowed reliable motion detection at sensitive settings, and video capture precision could be enhanced by marking the terrapin with reflective tape. This video surveillance camera was then deployed over 2 breeding seasons (2019 and 2020) in the conservation breeding project of the northern river terrapin (B. baska, Gray 1830) in Bhawal National Park in Bangladesh. Analysis of video recording demonstrated for the first time that female northern river terrapins nested on average for a period of 1.5 hrs and produced a single clutch per year. Results indicate that females inspect sandbanks and visit suitable nesting sites several times before egg deposition, suggesting that nest-site selection is not random in B. baska. In addition, water temperature measurements of the breeding ponds in 2 captive breeding sites of the B. baska project showed an annual average temperature decrease to 16°C–18°C during the mating season and an average increase to 28°C–31°C before the nesting season. Temperatures on nesting nights vary between the 2 breeding sites and differ between nesting events within each site, suggesting that overall seasonal temperature shifts initiate the nesting periods, while other physiological and environmental factors might trigger the actual nesting event. With the help of consistent motion-triggered video recording, our study provides a first underpinning of the nesting ecology of B. baska.

This content is only available as a PDF.