GUWAHATI: A major temple in Assam has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with two green NGOs, the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden and the Kamrup district administration for long-term conservation of the rare freshwater black softshell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans).
The signing ceremony held at Kamrup deputy commissioner office also marked the launch of a vision document 2030 by setting in motion a plan to have a ecologically viable population of 1000 adults of black softshell turtle in Assam by 2030.
It was launched after Turtle Survival Alliance India and Help Earth signed the pact involving the Hayagriva Madhava Temple Committee. The ponds in the temple, revered by both Hindus and Buddhists, is at Hajo, about 30 km northwest of Guwahati, harbour various threatened species of turtles.
“However, since the turtles are conserved in these ponds only based on the religious grounds many biological requirements for building a sustainable wild population have since long been overlooked. This multi stakeholder association eventually aims to restock the wild, viable, self-sufficient and genetically pure threatened turtle populations in the region,” said Arpita Dutta of Turtle Survival.
Dutta said Turtle Survival Alliance will offer assistance for the required improvement of husbandry of turtles kept in such ponds and further recovery efforts are recommended for the long-term survival and existence of the endangered freshwater turtles.
The species was thought to be ‘extinct in the wild’, only being confined to some religious sites in Northeastern India and Bangladesh. However, based on the preliminary information, its IUCN status has been downlisted to ‘Critically Endangered’ in 2021 but does not enjoy legal protection under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Traditionally being hunted ruthlessly for its meat and cartilage and challenged by illegal trade in regional and international markets, the recent sightings indicate the presence of fragmented populations, though the number of adult individuals may be drastically low.
Kamrup deputy commissioner Kailash Kartik N emphasised of mass awareness on the conservation issues of all species of turtles in the region while working on threats and opportunities to strengthen the black softshell turtle population in Assam.
It was also proposed that hatchlings from eastern Assam can be retained at Nature Discovery Centre, Biswanath Ghat under aegis of Turtle Survival Alliance India for proper upkeep and monitoring before release to the wild. Biswanath Ghat is about 240 km northeast of Guwahati.