SEMPORNA: The rare sight of a two-headed turtle hatchling has left turtle conservationists in amazement, as it emerged from a green turtle nest at Pulau Mabul near here on Monday (July 15).
The hatchling – one from a nest of 93 hatchlings 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 around 13,000 hatchlings from the hatchery and have never seen anything like this before.
SJ SEAS conservation manager and marine biologist David McCann explained that the heads both breathe independently, and react to stimuli separately.
"It is utterly fascinating. The right head seems to control the front right flipper, and the left head the front left flipper.
"Yet they are capable of co-ordinating their movements in order to walk and swim," he said.
Sabah Wildlife Department's (SWD) Wildlife Rescue Unit chief veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan said while dicephalism is highly unusual, it is not unheard of.
He added that there was a similar instance in Redang in 2014.
"The hatchling was studied for three months before it sadly died from pneumonia," Dr Sen elaborated.
“Unfortunately, these turtles would not survive in the wild – including this specimen, whose plastron is not fully developed or closed.
"Observation by the 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, allowing it to breathe easily," said Dr Sen.
SWD director Augustine Tuuga said green and hawksbill turtles are completely protected by law in Sabah, as they are listed under Schedule 1 of the 1997 Wildlife Conservation Enactment.
"For this reason, the hatchling is being kept under observation by the dedicated biologists and Honorary Wildlife Wardens who run the Mabul Turtle Rehabilitation Centre," he noted.
McCann stressed that their primary concern was for the hatchlings’ welfare.
"Although these hatchlings may not have a good prognosis, we will do our best to ensure that they are comfortable and taken care of," he said.