How endangered turtles are finding a safe haven in Delhi

Delhi: 1 Jan, 2022 (Times of India)

 

NEW DELHI: Crawling slowly — yet steadily — towards safety and rehabilitation, turtles, terrapins and tortoises rescued from the clutches of traffickers and pet traders have found a new home in the capital.

In a one-of-its-kind initiative dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of this shy reptile species, which is being pushed to edge due to illegal pet or meat trade, a new “transit wildlife rescue camp” is now operational at Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

According to the officials, the centre currently has around 18 turtles of different species and a tortoise.

Many of these species come under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which gives them the similar legal protection enjoyed by tigers.

The facility has a pond with fish in it, mounts where turtles have started to bask and a plan to rehabilitate them -- or their progenies, if any, in the future -- at deeper reaches of the sanctuary that seems closest to their natural habitat.

“A pond has been created to keep them close to the natural habitat and there is a separate isolation area as well with a smaller pond where the turtles are kept separately for 15 days after being rescued. During isolation, they are examined to ensure that they don’t have diseases. After they are out of distress and deemed medically fit, they are shifted to the permanent area with a bigger pond,” a forest official said.

More waterholes are being created in the deeper, more natural habitat, of the sanctuary with an aim to shift these turtles there in the near future.


“They are healthy, getting their own food, basking on the mounds made. There are no plans of developing any breeding centre, but in future, if that happens naturally and their number rises, more waterholes are being made to rehabilitate them there,” said the forester.

According to veterinarians, the good thing is that all the habitants of the centre are now out of stress and “adapting well”.

“We had put some native fish breeds in the pond. The turtles are now hunting themselves, which means they are no longer under stress. They are also moving and basking in the sun,” said Dr Mohit Swamy, a veterinarian with the department of forest and wildlife.

Turtles are shy, don’t like being petted and are mostly aquatic. The tortoise are land animals and don’t swim. Terrapins are turtles that live on both land and water.

“This year, the Flapshell turtle, which is found in Delhi too, was placed under the vulnerable category of IUCN Red-list. Flapshells are spread across India and are mostly traded for meat industry. Others are used in pet trade. The star tortoise, which is found in Rajasthan, Gujarat and the southern states, is globally trafficked as a pet,” said Sreeparna Dutta, project biologist at Turtle Survival Alliance, a conservation group.