GUWAHATI: Following months of meticulous planning and onerous administrative clearances, 63 endangered turtles of five species have finally flown back to Assam. The turtles include endangered species like the Indian roof turtle, the crowned river turtle, brown roof turtle and spotted river terrapin.
The turtles were confiscated by the Pune Forest Division between 2019 &2020. They were being smuggled to western India from Assam. Building on the past success of similar translocation operations by Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) India, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh State forest departments and Air India back in 2015, the expertise of TSA in such matters was called into use again by Maharashtra and Assam forest departments.
After the seizure, these turtles were housed in the interim facilities of Indian Herpetological Society and Resq Charitable Trust at Pune. Despite being rescued from poachers and illegal sellers, for these species which are not found in this area climate fluctuations and unsuitable weather conditions still loomed as constant threats to their survival.
"Subsequently, flying the turtles back to their native river systems in Assam remained as the only viable options. In absence of such repatriation measures turtles are either released in in-appropriate wetlands or remain in captivity for their entire life. Apart from the COVID19 restrictions for almost two years and unavailability of any direct connections between Pune and Guwahati, other complications of turtle translocation also had to be accounted for before this successful transfer," Dr. Saurabh Dewan of TSA India said.
Each turtle was inspected thoroughly before packing in padded plastic cartons for their 18 hour journey, via Delhi. Pawan Pareek, a researcher with TSA India, Lucknow Head Office had rushed to Delhi airport to inspect the consignment during it's night-long layover at IGI airport. During his inspection, Pawan ensured that the turtles were healthy, not stressed by transit, and most importantly, maintained the hydration levels
The turtles are now housed at the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati under observation and standard quarantine for an eventual rehabilitation into the wild.
"This is the third time the turtles have had the opportunity to fly back to their homes, through generous cooperation between state forest departments, conservation organizations and individuals," Dr Dewan said.
This historic repatriation was proactively supported by PCCF (Wildlife) of both states (Maharashtra & Assam) , Rahul Patil, IFS and his team at Pune Forest Division, Aswini Kumar, IFS and his team at Assam State Zoo, Rebecca Birwadkar and Promod Patil of Air India, Neha Panchamia and Nishant Nichu of ResQ Trust, Anil Khaire of IHS and Arunima Singh, Sushmita Kar and Pawan Pareek of TSA India.