Five species of rare turtles crammed in a small pool and fountain within the complex of a Shiva temple in central Assam’s Nagaon have been rehabilitated in a wildlife sanctuary about 45 km away.
A team from Nagaon Wildlife Division and green group Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), in coordination with the Nagaon Shivasthan Temple Committee, recently released 67 turtles at the Burhachapori Wildlife Sanctuary in Sonitpur district.
The turtles belong to five species — Indian flapshell, peacock softshell, Indian tent, brown-roofed and black softshell.
“We selected the healthier from more than 80 turtles in the fountain that has a concrete base, not ideal for turtles to lay eggs. Most of these turtles were donated by people who rescued them from roads or kept temporarily as pets. Some were caught in the nets of fishermen,” TSA’s project coordinator Parimal Chandra Ray told The Hindu from Biswanath Ghat in Sonitpur district.
About a dozen turtles, unlikely to survive in the wild, were left behind for devotees who feed them as part of the temple ritual.
The entire process of recovering the turtles and rehabilitating them in the wild took TSA and Forest officials six days.
The rehabilitation took time because of religious sentiments attached to the turtles. But the temple committee’s Prasanna Kalita and Pankaj Chakraborty pushed for relocating the turtles they felt were suffocating in the small space.
Local wildlife enthusiasts also noticed the turtles laying eggs on the fountain’s concrete base with none hatching. Turtles usually bury their eggs in the beds of water bodies.
The matter was taken up with Nagaon’s Division Forest Officer Ranjith Ram, who initiated the process of involving TSA and the rehabilitation was completed under the supervision of veterinarians.
Conservationists have identified 18 temple ponds in Assam that have for centuries been home to 20 out of 28 species of freshwater turtles found in India. Among these, the black softshell turtle is “extinct in the wild” according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.