New Delhi: The critically endangered Burmese roofed turtles, the species that was thought to be extinct in 2001, have hatched in Myanmar, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Turtle Survival Alliance said on Friday.

In a major boost to the species survival, 39 Burmese roofed turtles -- one of the rarest turtles in existence -- have hatched from 44 viable eggs in Limpha village.

This success is part of an ambitious "headstart" programme initiated by the WCS and Turtle Survival Alliance in 2007 in which the eggs of the Burmese roofed turtle are collected from the wild to hatch and raise.

According to the WCS, the new hatchlings will stay at the Limpha base camp and be allowed to grow to a size where they can defend themselves from predators like large fish, wading birds and monitor lizards. After approximately five years, they will be released in the wild.

"Every year there is a collective exhale among us when the females emerge and lay their eggs, and it was a thrill to recover so many eggs this year, particularly after some of the disappointing years we've had," an official statement quoting WCS Conservation Herpetologist for Southeast Asia Steven Platt said.

In 2016, only a single viable clutch was found. No viable eggs were produced in 2015; and in 2014, just a single viable egg was deposited.

This year, three clutches were found, two of which contained viable eggs.

Another clutch of four viable eggs, believed to be a test clutch, was found last December.

Females often lay a "test" clutch and then return later and deposit a full clutch.

"Seeing the hatchlings is an awe-inspiring sight, particularly when you consider the species was thought extinct as recently as 2001," said Platt.

"There are now 600 turtles of all sizes in the captive population."

"This programme represents a remarkable conservation success story and though the wild population remains in a perilous state, we have built up the captive numbers to both assure the species' survival and hopefully restore a wild population," Turtle Survival Alliance President Rick Hudson said.

Despite the success to date, less than five female Burmese roofed turtles remain in the wild.

A combination of long-term collection of eggs dating back almost 100 years, electro-fishing, incidental loss in fishing gear, and habitat loss due to gold mining, has pushed the species to the brink of extinction.