KOTA KINABALU: A two-headed turtle emerged from a green turtle nest much to the amazement of turtle conservationists on Pulau Mabul, off Sabah’s east coast Semporna district, yesterday.
The hatchling – one from a nest of 93 released – came up at the Mabul turtle hatchery run by SJ SEAS, the conservation arm of dive operator Scuba Junkie.
SJ SEAS chairman Mohd Khairuddin Riman said they had released about 13,000 hatchlings from the hatchery previously but had never seen anything like this before.
“The Sabah Wildlife Department’s (SWD) honorary wildlife wardens were all intrigued, as well as busy – we had two batches of hatchlings emerge last night and yet another turtle nesting,” he said.
SJ SEAS marine biologist and conservation manager David McCann said the heads breathe independently and react to stimuli separately.
“It is fascinating. The right head seems to control the front right flipper, and the left head the front left flipper.
“Yet they are capable of coordinating their movements to walk and swim.”
SWD’s Wildlife Rescue Unit chief veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan said dicephalism, or the condition of having two heads, is highly unusual, although not unheard of, with a similar case reported at Redang in 2014.
He said the hatchling at Redang was studied for three months before it died from pneumonia.
“Unfortunately, these turtles would not survive in the wild, including this specimen, whose plastron (the flat bottom part of a turtle shell) is not fully developed or closed.
“Observation by biologists on site also indicated that in deeper water, one head couldn’t get above water comfortably to breathe.
“The hatchling is being kept in shallow water to allow it to breathe easily,” he said.
SWD director Augustine Tuuga said green and hawksbill turtles are protected by law in Sabah, as they are listed under Schedule 1 of the 1997 Wildlife Conservation Enactment.
For this reason, he said the hatchling is being kept under observation by the biologists and honorary wildlife wardens who run the Mabul Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.