Mark­ing the trail

Down to Earth - - WILDLIFE -

the fe­male Shakti god­dess).It is be­lieved that a Manikya king, erst­while ruler of Tripura, brought the tur­tles from the Chit­tagong hill tracts of south Bangladesh,to mark the ho­li­ness of the place. The lake, spread over 1.11 hectares,has been the nat­u­ral habi­tat for the tur­tles for over 600 years.

The tur­tles used to come up to the shore look­ing for crumbs left by visi­tors and tourists. Devo­tees fed them with puffed rice and bis­cuits as part of their rit­u­als. In 1998, the state gov­ern­ment ce­mented the lake and con­verted it into a wa­ter tank to man­age the em­bank­ments. Within a year of the con­struc­tion of the ce­mented em­bank­ments,re­ports of tur­tle deaths sur­faced. Be­tween March 2002 and Jan­uary 2003,seven ma­ture tur­tle deaths were re­ported. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions had op­posed the con­struc­tion, but ad­min­is­tra­tion did not bother.The ad­min­is­tra­tion con­ve­niently put the blame for tur­tle deaths on tourists and pil­grims say­ing they litter the lake with plas­tic carry bags,says Das.

Build­ing space

In 2014,a lo­cal group of ex­perts,com­pris­ing tspcb sci­en­tists, fish­eries and zo­ol­ogy spe­cial­ists, ex­am­ined the en­vi­ron­ment and rec­om­mended the de­mo­li­tion of the lake em­bank­ments.Wildlife of­fi­cial Prasen­jit Biswas says the bask­ing site of sand bed,which is the prime re­quire­ment in the daily need of the tur­tles,had van­ished with the erec­tion of ce­ment struc­ture.As a re­sult,there was no place left where the tur­tle could bask in the sun to shed fun­gus molt from its body and find sun ex­po­sure to en­rich it­self with vi­ta­min D3. This heat is cru­cial for the tur­tle to give birth.

“As an am­phib­ian, it is es­sen­tial for tur­tles to have sandy ex­po­sure,which was not avail­able af­ter the con­struc­tion,” says Jy­oti Prakash Roy Chowd­hury, an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and mem­ber of the State Wildlife Board. Based on the ex­pert group’s ad­vice, a por­tion of the ce­mented wall on the east­ern bank was de­mol­ished in Septem­ber 2014. This en­abled the cre­ation of space for the tur­tles to nest. In Novem­ber 2014, the Eco De­vel­op­ment and Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee, headed by Chief Wildlife War­den A K Gupta, rec­om­mended the cre­ation of hatch­eries to study the change.

Mean­while,a pub­lic in­ter­est pe­ti­tion was filed in the High Court in June 2014, high­light­ing the fact that aquatic an­i­mals were hav­ing prob­lems in bask­ing on the beach as the em­bank­ments were ce­mented. Af­ter di­rec­tion from a di­vi­sion bench of the High Court of Tripura on June 25, 2015, the dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion started de­mol­ish­ing an­other part of the ce­mented em­bank­ment of the lake and cre­ated two hatch­eries. Be­sides in­stalling 12 aer­a­tors on the lake to sup­ply oxy­gen,the ad­min­is­tra­tion al­tered the menu for the tur­tles and big fish species. Ear­lier, they were given only bak­ery prod­ucts and meat avail­able through an­i­mal sac­ri­fice in the tem­ple. Now, along with fish feed (at least 10 kg/day), six kg meat is given daily in the lake.

Th­ese ef­forts have given the Bostami tur­tles a new lease of life.The High Court has di­rected the Chief Sec­re­tary to sub­mit a sta­tus re­port by the sec­ond week of Septem­ber, 2015, de­tail­ing steps taken to save the flora The­ef­fect­sof­con­struc­tio­nand de­mo­li­tionoftheem­bank­ment The holy lake of Tripureswari tem­ple in Udaipur, 55 km from Agar­tala, spread over 1.11 hectares, has been the nat­u­ral habi­tat for the tur­tles for over 600 years The state gov­ern­ment ce­mented the lake in 1998 As a re­sult, the tur­tles could not bask in the sun to shed fun­gus molt from their body and en­rich them­selves with vi­ta­min D3. This heat is cru­cial for the tur­tle to give birth; tur­tle deaths were also re­ported Parts of the con­structed em­bank­ments were de­mol­ished in Septem­ber 2014 and also af­ter the High Court of Tripura rul­ing in June 2015 This cre­ated space for the tur­tles to nest Now, along with fish feed (at least 10 kg/day, six kg meat is given daily to the tur­tles and fauna as rec­om­mended by the sci­en­tists, says Roy Chowd­hury. “We had sug­gested that the back side of the lake em­bank­ment be dis­man­tled and land near the lake be ac­quired so that the tur­tles can lay eggs com­fort­ably.We also ad­vised the fish­eries depart­ment to shift big fish species as they were eat­ing smaller fish and tur­tles,”he adds.

Tur­tles need sandy space to nest, which was not avail­able af­ter the con­struc­tion

of the lake em­bank­ments

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