Efforts on to conserve rare Cantor’s giant softshell turtle in Kasaragod

The Forest department is joining hands with the local community to safeguard the area and create sand beds for the little-known and elusive Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtles to lay eggs

November 12, 2022 08:45 pm | Updated 09:01 pm IST - KASARAGOD

The endangered Cantos Giant Softshell turtle

The endangered Cantos Giant Softshell turtle | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For the next few months, a little-known and elusive turtle species will be giving P. Sasi, president of the Ariyil Forest Protection Committee, sleepless nights. He and his team will be spending their time at the Pandikandam area along Payaswini river in Kasaragod, keeping a close eye on the Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, also known locally as Bheemanaama or Paala Poovan, and helping them breed.

These turtles, classified as endangered by the IUCN Red list, generated a lot of interest when nesting sites were discovered here for the first time last year. They can grow to over one metre in length and weigh over 100 kg, he says.

The Forest department has tasked the team with safeguarding the area and creating sand beds for the turtle to lay eggs. The team was instrumental in creating sand beds last year, where a turtle laid 35 eggs. Of these, 29 hatched, he said.

“Though people knew about these turtles, it was not until last year that they understood it was one of the rarest turtle species in India and one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world,” Mr. Sasi said.

Owing to lack of awareness about its conservation status, some people used to consume these turtles.

People are now more aware about the marine species, thanks to the efforts of Ayushi Jain, a research affiliate with the Wildlife Institute of India, Mr. Sasi says. She was the one to spot a nesting site at Bavikara, about 2 km from Pandikandam, with the help of locals and forest department, he adds.

“We plan to create more sand beds for nesting along the river banks this year and patrol the area to protect the turtles, says P. Krishnan, another member of the committee. This year, at least 10 sand beds would be created in the area, he adds.

P. Dhanesh Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Social Forestry, says the turtles remain hidden most of the time, and would not come to the riverbanks to lay eggs if there is any disturbance. However, awareness among the people has helped in safeguarding these turtles.

Despite falling under the Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act, the turtles are not getting much protection as their habitat is outside the protected area, says Mr. Kumar.

The rare species also faces a galore of challenges, including entanglement in fishing nets and baits, getting submerged under the water when shutters of the nearby Bavikkara Dam are lowered, thereby affecting their breeding chances.

Forester N.V. Sathayan says they are engaging more locals in conservation efforts. The department is planning to pay those involved in patrolling and other activities, he added

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