After an incredibly rare gold-colored turtle was discovered in Nepal, researchers there called on Victor Valley College biology professor Dr. Hinrich Kaiser to help explain the phenomenon.
Kaiser, who is currently on sabbatical as a visiting scientist at the Museum Koenig in Germany, is an esteemed expert of herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. As the editor of two herpetology journals, Kaiser is adept at writing papers like the one about the “golden turtle” that he co-authored with Nepalese researchers Kamal Devkota and Dev Narayan Mandal.
Published online on Aug. 6 in Herpetology Notes Vol. 13, the paper explains that the unique color of the freshwater-dwelling reptile — identified as an Indian flapshell turtle (Lissemys punctata) — is a result of chromatic leucism.
Similar to albinism, chromatic leucism is determined by dark eyes instead of pink ones and a prominent yellow pigmentation revealed by the absence of melanin in the skin, Kaiser explained.
“These unusual colors are very rare — it is exceptional to see these,” Kaiser said. “When you think of golden turtles, you might think of Buddhist legends — and then here it is.”
When news first broke of the stunning turtle’s discovery, viral content publishers emphasized the symbolic and spiritual significance of the animal. For instance, LADbible, a UK-based entertainment publication, led its story by stating that the turtle “has been hailed as an incarnation of a god.”
According to the article, Devkota said that both turtles and golden animals have cultural value in Nepal, and that it’s believed Lord Vishnu, a prominent Hindu god, once took the form of a turtle. Vishnu’s turtle avatar is known as Kurma and is worshipped by many throughout India.
This may be why the villager who found the golden turtle got in touch with Devkota and Mandal, who work with the Mithila Wildlife Trust, a nonprofit organization leading wildlife and natural resource conservation efforts in Nepal.
Discovered on April 14, 2018 in the Dhanusha District of Nepal, the yellowish flapshell turtle was released back into its original habitat after researchers photographed it.
More recently, a farmer in eastern India had a similar rare find — an albino Indian flapshell turtle. According to a CNN report, it was found on July 19 in Sujanpur, a city in the Pathankot district of the Indian state of Punjab.
Kaiser said that these recent discoveries have shown him that “people are paying more attention to nature.”
“We’ve heard a lot about climate change … It’s perhaps why people are more in tune with the environment and more willing to report on things they see,” Kaiser said.
While on sabbatical, Kaiser is working on a number of papers that will be published in the coming months, including a report on reptiles of Arno Atoll that will be co-authored by VVC students.