63 turtles flown back to Assam for release into nature

Back to water: 63 turtles rescued in Pune flown to Assam for release into natural habitat

The turtles were received by a joint team of Assam State Zoo in Guwahati and TSA

Turtles rescued and brought to Assam. Credit: Turtle Survival Alliance

After meticulous planning for months and administrative clearances, 63 endangered turtles of five species including endangered Spotted Pond Turtle and Crowned River Turtle, which were rescued from traffickers in Pune, have been flown back to Assam for release in their natural habitats.

The two species, which recently entered the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered, were seized by the Pune forest division between 2019 and 2020.

"After the seizure, these turtles were housed in the interim facilities of Indian Herpetological Society and RESQ Charitable Trust at Pune. Despite being rescued from poachers and illegal sellers, for these species which are not found in this areas with climate fluctuations and unsuitable weather conditions still loomed as constant threats to their survival. Subsequently, flying the turtles back to their native river systems in Assam remained as the only viable options,"(sic) said a statement issued by Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), a conservation group.

The Forest Department in Maharastra and Assam, TSA, Air India, ResQ Trust, besides others were part of the repatriation process. A similar exercise was carried out twice in the past.

"In absence of such repatriation measures, turtles are either released in in-appropriate wetlands or remain in captivity for their entire life," said the statement.

Each turtle was inspected thoroughly before packing in padded plastic cartons for their 18-hour journey, via Delhi. Pawan Pareek, a researcher with TSA India, Lucknow Head Office rushed to Delhi airport to inspect the consignment during its night-long layover at IGI Airport. During his inspection, Pawan ensured that the turtles were healthy, not stressed by transit, and most importantly, maintained the hydration levels, it said. Travel restrictions due to Covid-19 was another challenge for the exercise.

The turtles were received by a joint team of Assam State Zoo in Guwahati and TSA. "The turtles are housed at the Assam State Zoo under observation and for standard quarantine for rehabilitation into the wild," said the TSA.

The entire operation was supported by Kirloskar Brothers Limited and the Turtle Survival Alliance.

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