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Assam lacks measures to conserve its rare turtles

BY OUR STAFF REPORTER

GUWAHATI, Feb 23: It may sound strange but true. Twenty out of 29 species of freshwater turtles identified in India, are found in Assam and that too majority of them taking shelter in temple ponds.

The extremely rare black soft-shelled turtle which is categorized as extinct in the wild by IUCN – finds a secure home in some temple ponds of Assam.

Sources, however, told The Sentinel that lack of proper scientific conservation measures by the State Forest department has resulted in a threat for long-term survival of such turtles in these habitats.

“Most of the temple-ponds and campuses lack adequate resting and breeding space for the turtles. Accumulation of organic and non-biodegradable waste in the water, feeding of the turtles on untural food, poor water quality and overpopulation have posed as major hurdles in scientific conservation of such rare special turtles,” the source said.

Help Earth, an NGO recently conducted a survey on the status of turtles in 8 temple-ponds in the State. The survey has found that even though the Athkhelia (Golaghat), Barokhelia (Golaghat), Deopani (Diphu), Gorokhiya Than (Sorbhog), Kamakhya (Guwahati), Madhab Puskar (Hajo), gsankar (Tezpur) and Ugratara (Guwahati) temple ponds have good turtle populations, lack of scientific conservation measures have made the future of such species uncertain.

The pond at the historic Kamakhya temple has a high density of turtle population, with as many as 45 sightings a day. The species found included Nilssonia gangetica, Nilssonia hurum, Nilssonia nigricans, Pangshura sylhetensis, Pangshura tecta, Pangshura tentoria, and Geoclemys hamiltonii.

Activists of Help Earth during their survey found the pond water at Kamakhya temple looking unclean due to litter of non-biodegradable materials like plastics and food articles offered by devotees to the turtles.

The Ugratara temple pond in Guwahati also has a very high density of turtles in a small area. But there is no proper breeding site for the turtles.

The NGO has found that turtles have small breeding space in most of the ponds and they are habituated to a diet that is not tural for them. Even though several ponds are overpopulated, releasing the turtles in the wild will be a risky affair as they are accustomed to an untural diet.

Sources said while the Forest department is turning a blind eye towards conservation of turtles in temple ponds, NGOs like Help Earth have appealed to the State government and other organisations to join hands to save such rare species of turtles for future generations and contributing to the rich bio-diversity of Assam.