On 15 July, conservationists were surprised to discover a two-headed baby turtle emerging from the sand
According to Scuba Junkie SEAS (SJ SEAS) Chairman Mohd Khairuddin bin Riman, the two-headed hatchling emerged from a nest of 93 hatchlings at the Mabul Turtle Hatchery.
Malay Mail reported that the hatchery is operated by SJ SEAS, a conservation arm of dive operator, Scuba Junkie and is located in Mabul Island, Sabah.
Marine scientists and wildlife enthusiasts claimed that they have never seen anything like it before
“We have released around 13,000 hatchlings from the hatchery and have never seen anything like this before. This is extremely unusual,” said Khairuddin as quoted by Borneo Post Online.
"The Sabah Wildlife Department’s Honorary Wildlife Wardens (HWWs) were all intrigued, as well as busy – we had two batches of hatchlings emerged last night and yet another turtle nesting," the chairman added.
According to SJ SEAS marine biologist and conservation manager David McCann, both of the turtle heads are able to breathe independently
The Star Online also reported that the hatchling's both heads were reacting 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," David McCann said, adding that the turtles are capable of coordinating their movements when they walk or swim.
The condition of the two turtle heads in one body is described scientifically as dicephalism
According to Chief Veterinarian for the Sabah Wildlife Department's (SWD) Wildlife Rescue Unit Dr Sen, the condition is highly unusual but not unheard of.
“There was a similar instance in Redang in 2014. The hatchling was studied for three months before it sadly died from pneumonia,” said Dr Sen.
The Chief Veterinarian also added that the hatchling in Sabah would not survive in the wild as the plastron, the underside of a turtle's shell, 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.
Green and Hawksbill turtles are listed as protected under Schedule 1 of the 1997 Wildlife Conservation Enactment in Sabah
"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," said SWD Director, Augustine Tuga.
McCann also added that their primary concern was the turtles' welfare.
"Although these guys may not have a good prognosis, we will do our best to ensure that they are comfortable and taken care of," said McCann as reported by Borneo Post Online.