As the boat heads steadily upstream to Refugio Amazonas, the passengers see a Side-necked Turtle now and then. It’s a lazy afternoon and the tropical sun is glinting off of the water and off the leaves of big, riverside trees. Not much else is moving expect for the occasional group of butterflies on the shore. Yellow, white, and patterned in red and black, they seem to prefer some of the same spots as the turtles. In fact, some are even sitting on the turtle’s shells. The reptiles don’t seem to mind though and refuse to budge an inch as butterflies even sit on the tip of their noses.
The turtles only move when the boat gets too close. Dropping off of logs and river rocks, they quickly sink beneath the surface and are hidden from view. You can’t blame them for being shy as they are still recovering from being hunted by people who live along the river.
The Yellow-spotted Side-necked Turtle (Podocnemis unifilus) is the most frequently seen species of turtle on the Tambopata River and most guests visiting the eco-lodges run by Rainforest Expeditions get the chance to observe this species as they travel along the river.
Some interesting facts about the Yellow-spotted Side-necked Turtle:
- An appropriate name: This turtle species often shows yellow spots on the head, and like other members of the same genus, it moves its head to the side rather than straight back into its shell. It does this when threatened by predators.
- Long-lived: Like most turtle species, the Yellow-spotted Side-necked can live for several decades. A few of the giant tortoise species from oceanic islands have lived to be at least 170 years of age.
- Listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List: The IUCN Red List keeps track of animals that in danger of extinction or that appear to be headed in that direction. Despite the frequency of sightings on the Tambopata River, the Yellow-spotted Side-necked Turtle is listed as vulnerable (one step away from being endangered) due to population declines in much of its range. This formerly abundant turtle has disappeared from many areas as a result of over-harvesting of its eggs and the hunting of adult turtles for food.
How to see Yellow-spotted Side-necked Turtles on an Amazon jungle tour in Peru:
- Visit protected areas: Since this turtle is heavily hunted for food, it is much easier to encounter in places that receive a good deal of protection. Much of the Tambopata River runs through protected forest and it’s rather easy to see this turtle species for this reason.
- Watch logs that stick out of the water: This turtle species loves to warm up on sunny days by sitting on branches and logs that jut out of the river. They feel more protected in such spots because they can simply drop into the water if they feel threatened.
Take an Amazon adventure tour with Rainforest Expeditions to get up and close to Yellow-spotted Side-necked Turtles.