Shiva temple succour to Assam's turtle conservation

Turtles being released in Burasapori Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, recently. Photo credit/ Turtle Survival Network.

A Shiva temple committee in central Assam's Nagaon district has followed the example recently set by the ancient Haigrib Madhab temple by releasing 67 turtles from its pond to a wildlife sanctuary for conservation.

A joint effort of Nagaon wildlife division, Nagaon Shivasthan temple committee and Turtle Survival Network (TSA), an NGO rescued the turtles from a pond of Nagaon Amolapatty Shiva temple and released them in a habitat inside Burasapori Wildlife Sanctuary in Sonitpur district, about 30-km east.

The turtles comprised the Indian flapshell turtles, peacock softshell turtles,  Indian tent turtle, brown roofed turtle  and black softshell turtles, which were donated by devotees due to religious belief and were released in the temple pond from time to time.

"The temple pond is a small and concretized structure which is unsuitable for turtles. The space in the pond is not conducive for the turtles to lay eggs and hence not contributing to their gene pool. Moreover often many turtles die in the pond due to polluted water or diseases," said a statement issued by TSA.

In January this year, the Haigrib Madhab temple committee in Kamrup district had set an example by allowing translocation of 35 rare and endangered species of turtles from its ancient pond to a water body inside Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary.

India has at least 28 species of turtles, of which 20 are found in Assam. But killing of the turtles for meat and eggs, silt mining and encroachment of water bodies have made their future bleak.

"Almost all the temple ponds in Assam are having endangered turtles and most of them are in a confined, unhygienic condition due to lack of awareness. Religious beliefs and sentiments prevent temple authorities from agreeing to release the turtles into a suitable wild habitat. The example set by the authorities of the Nagaon Amolapatty Shivasthan Temple is laudable and we hope many other temples will follow suit," said the statement.

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