Rare temple turtles released in Assam wetland

The Forest Department, NGO Turtle Survival Alliance and Nagshankar temple authorities collaborated for the conservation of black softshell turtles, considered extinct in the wild

Twenty-two hatchlings of temple-reared black softshell turtles, considered extinct in the wild, were released in a major wetland within the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve on Tuesday.

These turtles were hatched five months ago at the Nagshankar temple in north-eastern Assam’s Biswanath district, under a collaborative conservation programme involving the State Forest Department, NGO Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA-India) and the temple authorities. Experts of TSA-India monitored the hatchlings.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the freshwater black softshell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is extinct in the wild. The very few that survive are scattered with other rare freshwater turtles in constricting temple ponds, mostly in Assam.

This was the first time that turtles hatched in temple facilities have been released in a wetland — Sildubi Beel — on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra.

An oxbow lake, Sildubi is under Biswanath Wildlife Division of Kaziranga. The lake is 1.8 km from the Brahmaputra and 7 km from Nagshankar temple.

“During the flooding season, this beel gets connected with the Brahmaputra. This way, the 22 hatchlings can disperse after getting habituated to this new natural environment,” Parimal Ray, project coordinator of TSA-India, told The Hindu.

TSA, Dr. Ray said, has a “zero turtle extinction” project that entails documenting the extant populations of endangered turtles in northeast India, evaluating the threats to them and their habitat, facilitating species recovery programme through multiple stakeholder collaborations, and creating mass awareness among various stakeholders to strengthen turtle conservation.

“TSA has been catalysing and assisting several temple committees and organisations to utilise the captive turtle populations for recovery of threatened species while discouraging them to accept wild turtles since 2013 in the region,” he added.

Mukut Chandra Das, Divisional Forest Officer of the Biswanath Wildlife Division, and Biswajit Das, Assistant Conservator of Forest of Sonitpur East Division, hoped the reintroduction would help in recovering the “decimated black softshell population in the wild”.

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