Assam priests offer hope for extinct turtle species

Last Updated 26 December 2018, 16:46 IST

Temple priests in Assam has offered fresh hope for reviving wild population of black softshell turtle, a species classified as extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2002.

At least 40 such turtles, which were bred in a temple pond in Assam and reared in Guwahati zoo, will soon be released in the Diphlu River near Kaziranga National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The turtles have been bred at the ancient Haygrib Madhab temple at Hajo in Kamrup district, about 40-km west from here as part of a conservation project of NGO Help Earth, with the help of Assam forest department and temple authorities.

The NGO had identified at least 15 temple ponds across Assam, having some of the rare turtle species, including the black softshell turtles. "After the successful hatching, the turtles were reared in captivity for six months to make them ready for release in the wild. The ready stock was then translocated to Assam State Zoo in Guwahati under the supervision of the divisional forest officer, Tejas Mariswamy. Based on the habitat quality and protection, Diphlu river was selected for the release of the turtles," said officials of Help Earth.

The black softshell turtle was classified as a species extinct in the wild in 2002 by the Switzerland-based IUCN. But in 2004, some such turtles were found in a few ancient temple ponds, offering a ray of hope for the conservationists.

Turtles in the ponds are fed by devotees and never killed owing to religious belief.

Conservationists said Assam has 20 of the 28 species of freshwater turtle and tortoises found in the country.

Black softshell turtle is a freshwater turtle and are original natives of the Brahmaputra in Assam and Chittagong and Sylhet areas in neighbouring Bangladesh.

"Unfortunately, the black softshell turtle is extinct in the wild species and thus without restocking programme this species will soon become extinct. Shiva Prasad Sarma, Doloi or the head priest of Haygriv Madhav temple and Pranab Malakar, caretaker of the turtles played the crucial role in the rearing of the extremely rare species along with the Kamrup district administration. The whole initiative started under the supervision of the then deputy commissioner, Kamrup, Vinod Seshan," said the NGO.

(Published 26 December 2018, 14:36 IST)

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