Tem­ples stave off ex­tinc­tion of tur­tles here

Species that have dis­ap­peared in the wild are be­ing bred in As­sam’s shrines


It re­ceived ‘divine pro­tec­tion’ for many years and now, the rarest of In­dia’s 28 tur­tle species is back where it be­longs – in the wild - where it went ex­tinct years ago.

The black soft­shell tur­tle

fig­ures in the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture’s (IUCN) Red List as “ex­tinct in the wild”. But a few tem­ple ponds in As­sam and Bangladesh are bring­ing these tur­tles back from the brink.

(Nilsso­nia ni­gri­cans) Re­leased into wet­lands

One such pond is in Haya­griva Mad­hab Tem­ple at Hajo, about 30 km west of Guwahati. Lo­cals re­gard the tur­tles in the pond as Kurma avatar of Lord Vishnu to whom the Hajo tem­ple is ded­i­cated.

“On Jan­uary 27, we re­leased 35 hand-reared tur­tle hatch­lings, in­clud­ing 16 black soft­shells, in the Haduk Beel (wet­land) of Po­bitora Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary. These tur­tles were bred in the Haya­griva Mad­hab tem­ple pond,” Jaya­ditya Purkayastha of Help Earth said. Po­bitora, of­ten re­ferred to as ‘Mini Kazi­ranga’, is about 50 km east of Guwahati.

The other tur­tle species moved from the tem­ple pond to the wild was In­dian soft­shell

(Nilsso­nia ganget­ica) (Nilsso­nia hu­rum).

and the pea­cock soft­shell Hatch­lings of the three tur­tle species were moved to the As­sam State Zoo in Guwahati, where they were mon­i­tored for a quar­an­tine pe­riod of 39 days, be­fore be­ing re­leased into the wild.

“This is a mile­stone in As­sam’s tur­tle con­ser­va­tion his­tory, and it would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the in­ter­est shown by the tem­ple au­thor­i­ties in the ar­ti­fi­cial breed­ing pro­gramme. The For­est De­part­ment and Tur­tle Sur­vival Al­liance pro­vided lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port,” Mr. Purkayastha said.

Pradipta Baruah, Di­vi­sional For­est Of­fi­cer, Guwahati Wildlife Divi­sion, said that a cer­tain de­gree of faith at­tached to tur­tles has helped them sur­vive in tem­ple ponds.

Tak­ing the tur­tle con­ser­va­tion story for­ward is seen as a ma­jor chal­lenge for wildlife of­fi­cials in Po­bitora, vul­ner­a­ble to poach­ers be­cause of a size­able one-horned rhino pop­u­la­tion.

In­dia hosts 28 species of tur­tles, of which 20 are found in As­sam. But con­sump­tion of tur­tle meat and eggs, silt min­ing, en­croach­ment of wet­lands and change in flood­ing pat­tern have had a dis­as­trous im­pact on the State’s tur­tle pop­u­la­tion.

A black soft­shell tur­tle be­ing re­leased in the wa­ter.

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