On May 23, 2020, World Turtle Day, a number of conservation agencies launched a citizen science initiative, a mobile-based application called KURMA, aimed at turtle conservation.
The application, developed by the Indian Turtle Conservation Action Network (ITCAN) in collaboration with the Turtle Survival Alliance-India and Wildlife Conservation Society-India, not only provides users a database to identify a species but also provides the location of the nearest rescue centre for turtles across the country.
“The KURMA App is free to download. It serves as a digital database, with a built-in digital field guide covering 29 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises of India, and information on turtle identification, distribution, vernacular names, and threats,” Shailendra Singh, director of Turtle Survival Alliance-India, said.
200 smuggled a week
Tortoise and freshwater turtles are among the most trafficked in the country. A report released in 2019 by TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade monitoring organisation, showed that at least 200 tortoises and freshwater turtles fall prey to illicit poaching and smuggling every week, or 11,000 each year, adding up to over 1,11,130 turtles poached or smuggled between September 2009 and September 2019.
One of the major challenges for freshwater turtle conservation in the country is that wildlife crime prevention agencies are not sufficiently equipped to know how to distinguish one species from the other, or their protection status in accordance with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and the Wildlife Protection Act.
“Suppose turtles are recovered at Kolkata Airport, then KURMA will help you reach five places in Kolkata that one can approach for help. Different rescue centres are also registered on the app, and also a number of experts who can provide more information on the species,” Mr. Singh said.
Within only a few weeks, 90 assistance facilities have been registered on the app. If anyone reports a turtle from any part of the country using KURMA, he or she receives advice about the species and its conservation. The organisations that have developed the app said it was generating a good response.
The organisations behind developing the application said that it was generating a good response and encouraging people to report turtles in their surroundings. During the Indian monsoon, from July 1 to July 7, an online competition was held to encourage citizens to report turtles from their localities. “We received hundreds of reports, which includes both observation and rescue reports of turtles from all across the country. As more reports come in, KURMA will start identifying species automatically through artificial intelligence,” Mr. Singh said.