1987, 2012, 2020. These are key years in this decades-long love story which is still going strong. At the centre of it is a red-crowned roof turtle at Madras Crocodile Bank Trust.
This particular species is a critically endangered one, the crucial reason being years of human interference creating habitat loss due to sand mining, illegal fishing, and poaching of eggs and meat. The one at Croc Bank was brought in for captive breeding in 2012. It is just one of numerous endangered crocodiles, turtles, tortoises and other reptiles that have been in the care of the conservation organisation since its founding in 1976 by Romulus and Zai Whitaker. The bank’s efforts at conservation and awareness have been both spirited and creative, including everything from field research to the making of animated short films. Among the latter, an intriguing one that is relevant to our story is called Mudalai (Dost Magarmachh) — My friend The Crocodile. Released in 1987, the animated film received multiple awards over the years, and starred the voices of many big and small actors from the Tamil film industry. Needless to say, the film left an impact not only on children who saw it, but also adults who were a part of it, including an actor called Amarasigamani, the father of our protagonist Parthiban.
- The Madras Crocodile Bank has seen only two adopters over 2018 and 2019
- The website has a list of animals up for adoption, and an adoption form
- The cost varies, and covers the animal’s feed, maintenance, vet care, and signage
“He was one of the voice actors for the film, and was deeply moved by it. He has kept in touch with the Crocodile Bank since, and made sure I did, too,” says Parthiban over a short overseas phone call. For Parthiban, raised in Chennai, a curiosity about the environment and an attachment to the Crocodile Bank has sustained despite rlocating to Ericson, Finland, years ago. “I still follow the bank’s social media handles and keep tabs on what is happening. I also visit it without fail on my annual trips back home,” he says.
Much needed dialogue
This mindset is something he couldn’t have let go of even if he had wanted to, he adds, because the school that his daughter Aadhya (who, incidentally, was born in 2012) attends in Finland, places environmental education on high priority. “The children learn all about sustainability. They go on walks, explore Nature around them, build a sense of curiosity...” Parthiban wanted to contribute to this aspect of his daughter’s upbringing, and also expand it towards his homeland. “I wanted her to know about the Nature and wildlife of India, and also to forge the same connection that I have with Chennai. But I wasn’t sure how,” he says.
And then one day, he saw an announcement online: a notice for adoption, posted by his childhood haunt. “I saw the campaign on their Facebook page; there were a number of animals and their details, and we could choose to contribute to the upkeep of one or more of them.” For Parthiban, this was his chance to create a bond between his daughter and the Croc Bank. For Aadhya, it was a one-of-a-kind gift for her seventh birthday — a red-crowned roof turtle adopted in her name, this February.
Says the father, “I didn’t know much about the species till we read up on it, only that it is critically endangered.” The freshwater turtle, one of 24 species endemic to India, is characterised by the bright colours of courtship — red, yellow, white and blue — on the faces and necks of the males. They mainly inhabit the Chambal river, and Aadhya has only seen them in photographs. But she does know that a plaque carrying her name hangs by an enclosure housing the one at the Crocodile Bank, “and that we will be visiting it soon,” says Parthiban.