M3 Features

Rare turtle bred in captivity


July 2, 2014

One of the world’s rarest turtles, the Sundarbans river terrapin (Batagur baska), is no longer found in its natural habitat in the Sundarbans. About 60 cm in length, it can be told apart from other turtles of its family by two features – its pointed, upward-tilting nose and its four-clawed forelimbs. According to a survey conducted by the NGO, Turtle Survival Alliance-India (TSA India) this particular turtle has become extinct from the Sundarbans area.

“We carried out the survey, which is called habitat evaluation study, in March this year and we did not find a single turtle (Batagur baska) in Sundarbans,” Shailendra Singh, programme director India of TSA said. “This means the terrapin exists only in captivity,” he said.

Turtle Survival Alliance-India (TSA India) and the West Bengal Forest Department (WBFD) have been working in partnership in an effort to save the critically endangered Sundarbans, or northern, river terrapin from extinction.

In 2008, TSA India inspected the area where the turtles were kept in captivity at the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve headquarters. This led to the rejuvenation of the river terrapin breeding programme by WBFD.

At that time only a handful of adult turtles were in captivity but they were not breeding. Also, these animals did not have any surviving young due to the absence of a nesting beach and predators such as mongoose and water monitor lizards.

The breeding of this variety of turtles in captivity started two years ago. Working with the forestry department, TSA India provided inputs on husbandry and management protocols that led to the successful nesting and hatching of 33 babies in 2012, with 56 the following year. In 2014 a large pool and nesting beach was completely covered and fenced to keep out local predators.

“The conservation project started in 2008. At that time only 11 turtles were in captivity. The good thing is that at present the population of this turtle has grown after breeding in captivity,” Singh said.

He also said, “Batagur baska used to be found at the Hooghly river mouth and at present they have become extinct from the natural habitat mainly because of human consumption since it is very tasty.”

Since the programme of breeding Batagur baska in captivity has been successful, there are plans for TSA and WBFD to jointly release some hatchlings in their natural habitat sometime later. This effort by TSA and WBFD might bring back the river terrapin in the Sundarbans once again.

But to conserve them, poaching has to be stopped. In addition, regular monitoring of these animals is necessary and a constant watch on local market is needed. Awareness among people is also necessary so that they do not catch the turtles for consumption.

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