FSea turtles are crucial to maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems as they clean up rivers and ponds by consuming dead matter and algae. Charismatic species also control invasive fish varieties and often serve as a source of protein for other animals in the water body.
There are 29 species of freshwater turtles in India, 17 of which are threatened due to high demand in the international market, illegal trafficking, trade and habitat loss, says Shailendra Singh, an advocate for wildlife.
“Many of these species are on the brink of extinction and pose a threat to the environmental balance,” he said. The best India. “The endangered species are Batagur baska, Batagur kachuga, Nilssonia nigricans, Chitra indica, Pangshura sylhetensis and Manouria emys pharie,” he adds.
However, in a fight to prevent the same, Shailendra has dedicated his life and spent the past 13 years successfully bringing seven species back to the brink of extinction.
A deep love for turtles
“I believe that my conservation actions have benefited the three endangered species of batagurs, the black softshell turtle, the Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle, the Assam’s roof turtle as well as the brown turtles. Asian, ”he says.
Shailendra adds that in addition to reviving the population, he is active in the rehabilitation of most of the northern species often saved from illegal trade.
He says his journey with turtle conservation began when he was nine years old. “I belong to a small village called Jarwal Road, near the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, located along the Indo-Nepal border. The sanctuary became my favorite haunt during my school years and I was fascinated by the wildlife and biodiversity of the forest area. One day I bought two Indian turtles from a pet store. I really enjoyed watching them, which eventually developed my interest in creatures, ”he explains.
Shailendra says her curiosity only increased over time. “I once cut our newly purchased net to fish for turtles from nearby water bodies just to observe them.”
He later graduated in biology and did his graduate studies in environmental science at Lucknow University. “I joined Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) while pursuing graduate studies. The NGO was working to protect the species and learned that turtles were the most endangered vertebrates. Unlike tigers and elephants, turtles are a neglected group of animals, ”he says.
In 2003, his research on Gomati River turtles revealed the local extinction of triple-roofed turtles and uncontrolled poaching of other riparian species. “I was concerned about the news and decided to study turtles across the country to understand their threats and take necessary conservation action,” he says, adding, “I find turtles beautiful, cute and harmless. Anyone can easily connect with them. The fascinating thing about turtles is that they can control their brood and decide the quantity versus the quality of the hatchlings.
He adds that the lack of awareness of protection and conservation prompted him to pursue his doctorate for the cause. In 2005, he turned down a position with the Border Security Force (BSF) to study turtles in the Chambal River. “The decision upset my parents,” he says.
Shailendra says few people knew about the turtle issues, which is still true today. “This is also the reason why I decided to take up the cause and start working in the river basins of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra”, he explains.
Shailendra says studying turtles in various parts of the country made him realize the number of challenges creatures face in order to survive. “Turtles are poached for the pet, meat and shell trade in South Asian countries. They often face survival threats due to water pollution or accidental drowning after getting stuck in fishing nets. Habitat changes due to sand mining, river bed loss or riverbank agriculture are other threats to survival, ”he explains.
Shailendra says that to counter the threats he has started conservation projects.
Citing an example of his work in the Chambal River, he says: “We started vulnerable nest protection programs for Batagur kachuga and Batagur dhongoka in 2006. This was one of the longest campaigns in which we protected predator nests and other anthropogenic pressures. We have set up a ‘kick back and release’ facility near Etawah and have provided assistance to a similar government facility in Madhya Pradesh to raise babies so that they are less vulnerable to predation. “
Describing his approach, Shailendra says vital turtle nesting sites are identified and protective measures are taken accordingly. “Many eggs are kept, hatched and released in safe waters. Our radiotelemetry study provided information on the preservation, survival and dispersal requirements of reared and released animals, which had an 80 percent survival rate, ”he adds.
He says local communities play a crucial role in helping them. “We have set up a community education program through a cluster-level approach along the lower Chambal involving 35 schools and more than 4,000 local children. The local community is also involved in taking sustainable conservation measures by creating business models through the manufacture of artificial jewelry, sewing schools, in order to reduce the pressure and dependence of people and communities to earn a living. key turtle habitats.
Shailendra says that from 13 Batagur Baskas in 2008, the population has grown to 380 today.
In 2021, he won the Behler Turtle Conservation Award for being wildlife’s last hope for survival.
Protect a prehistoric species
He says various human connections are used in conservation programs. “Turtles have been associated with religion, longevity and auspiciousness. Communities in parts of India believe that keeping turtles at home is auspicious. We use our network to help breed endangered species in villages and temple ponds. It’s a challenge to convince people not to keep turtles at home, ”he admits.
“The biggest problem is the illegal trade in turtles and controlling the poaching of turtles from the remaining populations, in addition to properly rehabilitating animals rescued from the prohibited trade,” he says.
Now working as a program director at TSA, Shailendra says he and his volunteers involve poachers in conservation projects to reduce illegal incidents. He says, “It’s ironic that despite these positive ties to humans, turtles are on the brink of extinction. “
Shailendra says he aims to secure at least a functioning population of all endangered Indian turtle species and develop a colony to secure the future of the turtles.
His only appeal to society is, “Never keep turtles as pets and never eat them for meat.” I urge people to keep nearby wetlands and rivers clean to provide safe habitats for turtles. Residents must report any sightings of turtles and illegal activity using the Kurma mobile app. Please support organizations that save turtles and wetlands in their respective areas. “
He adds: “Indian turtles need our support and I am fortunate to contribute to their conservation. I want to see a lot of happy turtles in clean waters. I encourage young people and all citizens to join hands for the conservation of this prehistoric creature that has roamed this land for more than 200 million years.
Edited by Yoshita Rao