Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 4:25
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

Turtles of Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia
by Lim Boo Liat and Indraneil Das. 1999.
Natural History Publications (Borneo),
8.75 x 6.25 in., xii + 151 pp.
Hardcover/DJ, U.S. Price: $40-$45

Natural History Publications (Borneo),
8.75 x 6.25 in., xii + 151 pp.
Hardcover/DJ, U.S. Price: $40-$45

Review by John P. Levell
NorthStar Herpetological Associates - Turtle and Tortoise Book Shop
P.O. Box 389
Lanesboro, MN 55949-0389; USA

While by no means brand new, Turtles of Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia by Lim Boo Liat and Neil Das has only recently become widely distributed in the United States. While this in itself makes a review of the volume appropriate, growing concerns over the conservation status of all of Asia’s turtles and tortoises makes the current availability of this volume most fortuitous indeed. In fact, as things stand right now, it is difficult to imagine there will be an overabundance of available publications on Asian chelonians anytime soon.

Be that as it may, that this is one nice little book is likely to be the immediate thought of anyone seeing this volume for the first time. This is due in large part to the well-designed and attractive dust jacket, which features excellent color photographs of the Asian brown tortoise, Manouria emys, on the front and rear panels. The fact that neither one of these two cover photos have been duplicated elsewhere within the book also adds a utilitarian aspect to the jacket that is typically absent in the wrappers of most other publications.

A cursory examination of the book’s interior will likewise only further enhance the overall impression of quality. The hardcover binding is sound; the text is clean, well organized, and neatly formatted; and everything from beginning to end is printed on one of the finest grades of glossy paper available anywhere. Most eye appealing of all, the 163 pages are literally crammed full of exceptional color photographs.

Totally 95 in number, these color photos are perhaps the book’s strongest facet particularly since quality color illustrations of Asian turtles are currently so few and far between. Virtually all are crisp, clear, well composed and reproduced at a generous size; many must be ranked among the most stunningly beautiful chelonian photos ever published. The photos are further supplemented with a color map and 3 or 4 well executed b/w drawings. Indeed, about the only conceivable criticism that might be directed at the volume’s illustrations, is that only one photo has been provided for the yellow-headed temple turtle, Hieremys annandalei.

The text is likewise neatly formatted, well organized, and aesthetically pleasing. The bulk of the volume consists of individual species accounts for all the terrestrial, semiaquatic, freshwater, and marine chelonians recorded from Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, including the almost universally introduced red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans. Arranged on the basis of family affiliation, these accounts provide information on identification and concisely review the distribution, biology, and conservation status of each of these twenty-five species.

Of particular interest, at least to this reviewer, are the brief definitions of scientific names accompanying each species account. While obviously providing an extra-added tidbit of information, these reviews of the derivation of names undoubtedly also help foster a greater appreciation for scientific nomenclature, regardless of one’s level of zoological expertise, and their inclusion in this or any other volume could not be more highly recommended.

A full citation to the publication of original description and a list of vernacular Malayan names complete each species account. The bibliographic listing of over 150 additional relevant titles likewise further enhances the volume’s utility as a valuable reference tool. Rounding out the text are the almost obligatory introductory comments, a species checklist, an identification key, a short glossary, and a brief closing chapter on regional chelonian conservation.

While certainly very well done, a more detailed examination of the volume does reveal a small number of unfortunate textual flaws. By far the most glaring of these occurs in the book’s Introduction, where the partial sentence ending page three remains unfinished by the equally incomplete sentence that opens page four. Making matters worse, the missing portions of both sentences, as well as any other sentences that may belong in between, have not just simply been misplaced but are instead absent from the text entirely.

Naturally, such faults are solely attributable to editorial error. Despite the obvious expertise of both authors, however, a few factual mistakes occur elsewhere in the text, as well, and these are perhaps most evident in the chapter on sea turtles. The olive ridley, Lepidochelys olivacea, for example, is not “the world’s smallest sea turtle” as the authors’ erroneously state on page 34. Indeed, it is widely known that this size distinction is properly applied to the closely related Kemp’s ridley, Lepidochelys kempii, a species geographically quite far removed from Borneo and Malaysia.

At the same time, the authors’ frequently repeated statement that sea turtles reach sexual maturity in “4 to 5 years” is clearly incompatible with data provided by a number of other researchers. In fact, Chaloupka and Musick (1997) state that leatherbacks, Dermochelys coriacea, appear “to have by far the highest juvenile growth rates of all sea turtle species, reaching sexual maturity on average in around 13 to 14 years.” Other published data likewise suggests natural maturation rates of at least 20 to 30 years and perhaps considerably more for most sea turtles in the wild (Balazs, 1982; Frazer and Ehrhart, 1985; Limpus, 1992; Limpus and Walter, 1980; Miller, 1997).

Other inconsistencies also turn up on occasion. Orlitia borneensis, for instance, is said to be the region’s “largest freshwater turtle” at 800 mm in carapace length (page 85). This comment, however, is directly contradicted by the size data provided by Lim and Das for the Asian softshell, Amyda cartilaginea (830 mm), the narrow-headed softshell, Chitra indica (1150 mm), and the Asian giant softshell, Pelochelys cantorii (1500 mm), which all must surely be considered primarily freshwater species.

The Asian brown tortoise, Manouria emys, is likewise not included “in Appendix I of CITES” as the authors claim on page 109, but is instead listed in CITES Appendix II and then only by virtue of being a member of the family Testudinidae (i.e. the species is not specifically included by name in any of the three CITES Appendices). While on the subject, it is also perhaps appropriate to note that the various IUCN Red Data Book ranks, CITES Appendices, and IUCN/SSC Specialist Group Action Plan ratings, while freely cited throughout the text, are not defined or otherwise explained anywhere within the volume.

In spite of these criticisms, however, it is impossible to view Turtles of Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia as anything other than one outstanding little volume. Indeed, the quality and quantity of the color photographs alone quite easily justify the book’s purchase price. At the same time, with the exception of a few relatively inconsequential mistakes and some inconsistencies, authors Lim and Das have provided a wealth of relevant information in an attractive, neatly compacted, and readily usable format. While obviously a worthy edition for any chelonian library, Turtles of Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia will undoubtedly prove invaluable to those with interests more narrowly focused on Asian turtles and tortoises.

Literature Cited

Balazs, George H. 1982. Growth Rates of Immature Green Turtles in the Hawaiian Archipelago, pp. 117-125. In: Bjorndal (ed.). The Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. USA.

Chaloupka, M.Y. and Musick, J.A. 1997. Age, Growth, and Population Dynamics, pp. 233-276. In: Lutz and Musick (eds). The Biology of Sea Turtles. CRC Press. Boca Raton, FL. USA.

Frazer, N.B. and Ehrhart, L.M. 1985. Preliminary Growth Models for Green, Chelonia mydas, and Loggerhead, Caretta caretta, Turtles in the Wild. Copeia 1985: 73-79.

Limpus, C.J. 1992. The Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, in Queensland: Population Structure within a Southern Great Barrier Reef Feeding Ground. Australian Wildlife Research 19(4): 489-506.

Limpus, C.J. and Walter, D.G. 1980. The Growth of Immature Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) Under Natural Conditions. Herpetologica 36: 162 - 165.

Miller, Jeffrey D. 1997. Reproduction in Sea Turtles, pp. 51-53. In: Lutz and Musick (eds). The Biology of Sea Turtles. CRC Press. Boca Raton, FL. USA.