Indian biologist Shailendra Singh has been awarded the Behler Turtle Conservation Award for bringing three critically endangered turtle conservation species back from the brink of extinction.
A press statement issued by the headquarters of the Turtle Survival Alliance earlier this week said: “For some species, such as the Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga), Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska), and Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) Dr. Singh and his team’s efforts are the last hope for their wild survival in the country.” The award has been bestowed by several global bodies involved in turtle conservation such as Turtle Survival Alliance, IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservancy, and the Turtle Conservation Fund.
“In just 15 years, there are few individuals that have made such monumental contributions to turtle conservation as Shailendra Singh. He and his team’s efforts now span much of India, impacting well over half of its turtle and tortoise species, many of which are among the most endangered turtles on the planet,” said Rick Hudson, president, Turtle Survival Alliance. “While it may take decades to witness the full impact of Dr. Singh’s commitment, his name and legacy have become synonymous with Indian turtle conservation,” Mr. Hudson added.
Shailendra Singh was named to lead the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)/ Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India turtle programme. “In the 13 years since, he has expanded the TSA India Program to include research, conservation, assurance colony building, community engagement, and outreach as well as developing alternative livelihoods, working to convert poachers, and creating wildlife trafficking response programs. Working in four priority Indian turtle conservation areas, the program now protects 18 of India’s 29 turtle and tortoise species, several of them regarded as Critically Endangered,” the press statement added. The Behler Turtle Conservation Award was established in 2006 to recognise outstanding achievements, contributions and leadership excellence in international turtle conservation and biology.
Speaking with The Hindu , Dr. Singh said that he was happy the award has turned the spotlight on turtle conservation in the country. “Turtles are one of the highly smuggled species in the country. In the past several years, we have rescued about 35,000 turtles and rehabilitated them in the wild,” the biologist said.
A report released by international wildlife trade monitoring body TRAFFIC in 2019 revealed that at least 200 individual tortoises and freshwater turtles fall prey to illicit poaching and smuggling every week; 11,000 do so each year; and over 1,11,130 did so between September 2009 and September 2019.
These critically endangered turtles are being conserved as a part of TSA India’s research, conservation breeding and education programme in different parts of the country. The Northern River Terrapin ( Batagur baska ) is being conserved at the Sunderbans; the Red-crowned Roofed Turtle ( Batagur kachuga ) at Chambal; and the Black Softshell Turtle ( Nilssonia nigricans ) at different temples in Assam.
There are 29 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises in the country.