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Human density impacts Nubian Flapshell turtle survival in Sub-Saharan Africa: Future conservation strategies

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The Nubian Flapshell Turtle, Cyclanorbis elegans, is classified as one of the most threatened chelonian species globally (Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List). The species is presumed extinct in most of its historical distribution range, but still survives along the White Nile between South Sudan and northern Uganda. In this paper, we utilised the maximum entropy model (MaxEnt) to evaluate the habitat suitability of the species to explore its distribution decline by comparing historical and current presence data, as well as correlate the predicted past and present distribution with human population density. Our assumption is that overexploitation of the turtle occurs (and has occurred in the past) in sites with high human density. We show that: (1) a large number of historical sites where the turtle was present had high human population densities, whereas (2) the current distribution model showed low overlap between areas with high probability of turtle presence and high human population density. We suggest that Nubian flapshells are likely to have become extinct because of high human density (and therefore high overexploitation) and remnant populations have only survived along waterbodies with low numbers of people. However, the presence sites of this species in northern Uganda are under pressure by rapidly growing refugees'settlements. We also hypothesize that the range of the Nubian Flapshell may be shifting to the south (where the general environment is wetter and cooler) due to climate change affecting the distribution of this freshwater species. The conservation implications of these evidence are also presented.

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