Meet the Madagascar big-headed turtle

Found in the swamps and slow-moving rivers of Madagascar, the Madagascar big-headed turtle is known locally as 'rere'.

The wild population declined rapidly due to overfishing and hunting of females and their eggs, in addition to climate change affecting their breeding patterns.

With the help of local communities, we have been working to protect this unique turtle and its precious habitat since 1998, through captive breeding and release, head-starting young turtles, and intensive nest monitoring and protection.

Madagascar Giant Side Necked Turtle 2021 04
Animal facts

Key facts about the Madagascar big-headed turtle

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I'm found in Madagascar

Madagascar big-headed turtles live in the swamps and wetlands of Madagascar.

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I'm known locally as "rere"

The rere, pronounced "ray-ray", is one of four native turtle species in Madagascar.

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My head is too big for my shell

These turtles have unusually large heads, which means they cannot fully hide inside their shell.


Estimated wild population


First captive-bred reres released


Released into wild

Durrell has been working to protect this unique turtle since 1998

Our conservation work

What we're doing to help save side-necked turtles

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Protecting turtles and their nests

The rere has long been hunted for food. Fishermen would use large fishing nets on the lake to collect multiple turtles, or females and their eggs would be collected during laying season.
What we're doing to help
We’re working with local people to help them find alternative food sources, and training them in sustainable food production. Nests are now protected by community-based patrols to prevent eggs from being stolen.
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Protecting Madagascar’s wetlands

The wetlands provide local people with vital resources, but these have been overexploited.
What we're doing to help
We’re providing local farmers with the skills they need to farm more sustainably in the wetlands and empowering communities to protect the precious wetland habitats of Madagascar.
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Breeding turtles in captivity

Populations have declined dramatically due to climate change affecting breeding patterns and the hunting of female turtles and their eggs.
What we're doing to help
We set up a captive breeding centre to breed and then release turtles into suitable wild habitats. This allows us to monitor rere populations both in captivity and in the wild by ensuring turtles are healthy before joining the wild population.

Meet Juliette Velosoa, the rere project manager, and learn how we're protecting the Madagascar big-headed turtle in its native home.

Madagascar Giant Side Necked Turtle at Jersey Zoo

Meet the big-headed turtle at Jersey Zoo

You can see our Madagascar big-headed turtles for yourself at Jersey Zoo.

They have unusually large heads, which is where they get their name. Unlike most other turtle species, the big-headed turtles head is so big they cannot fully hide inside their shells. Living in wetland habitats, these turtles spend most of their lives in the water but venture onto land to lay their eggs or bask on logs and rocks.

See if you can spot them gliding through the water or basking in the warmth of their habitat in our Reptile and Amphibian House.

Support our conservation work