Do you know that turtles play an important role in keeping the water clean and maintaining the ecosystem? Actually, they keep rivers and ponds clean by eating dead matter and algae. Due to Turtles, many such fish are controlled, whose nature is harmful. Apart from this, the most important thing is that turtle is also a source of protein for aquatic organisms.
Wildlife conservationist Shailendra Singh says there are 29 species of freshwater turtles in India, of which 17 species are in danger due to high demand in the international market, illegal smuggling, trade and habitat loss.
Shailendra has The Better India Many of these turtle species are moving towards the brink of extinction and are posing a threat to the environmental balance. The most threatened species are Batagur basca, Batagur cachuga, Nilsonia nigricans, Chitra indica, Pangshura siletensis and Manoria amiss ferry. However, Shailendra has dedicated his life in the fight to stop it and he has saved seven species from the brink of extinction in the last 13 years.
deep love for turtles
Shailendra says, “I believe that all three endangered species of Batgur, the Black Soft-shell Turtle, the Indian Narrow-Headed Soft-shell Turtle, the Assam Roofed Turtle as well as the Asian Brown Turtle, have benefited because of the conservation work. ” He said that apart from reviving the turtle population, he is active in rehabilitating most of the northern species, which are often protected from illegal trade.
He says that when he was nine years old, he started the work of conserving turtles. Recalling those days, Shailendra says, “I hail from a small village called Jarwal Road near the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, which is located on the Indo-Nepal border. I started going to the sanctuary right from the school days. I was fascinated by the wildlife and biodiversity in the forest area. One day I got two Indian tent turtles from a shop. Actually, I love watching tortoises and this is where my interest in this creature started growing.
Shailendra says that with the passage of time his curiosity towards animals increased. Later, he did his graduation in biology and did his post graduation in environmental science from Lucknow University. He says, “I joined the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) during my higher studies. This NGO was working towards protecting the species. I learned that turtles are the most endangered animals. Unlike tigers and elephants, turtles are a neglected group of animals.
Lack of awareness inspired to do PhD
In the year 2003, he did a research on Turtles in the Gomti River. His research revealed the extinction of three-striped-roofed turtles and other species. Shailendra says, “This information worried me. I decided to study turtles across the country, understand their threats, and take necessary conservation measures. I love turtles. These are creatures that do not harm anyone. There are many specialties of this creature.
He says the lack of awareness about and conservation of turtles inspired him to pursue a Ph.D. In 2005, he turned down a job in the Border Security Force (BSF) to study turtles in the Chambal River. His decision had upset his parents.
Shailendra says that many people were not aware about the issues related to tortoises, which is a fact even today. “That was the reason why I took a decision in the interest of turtles and started working in the Ganga and Brahmaputra river basins,” he said.
‘Rear end release’ feature introduced
Shailendra says that while studying turtles in different parts of the country, he realized how many challenges this creature has to face to survive. Turtles are traded and poached for meat in South Asian countries. They often face existential threats due to water pollution or accidental drowning after being caught in fishing nets. This creature is also being harmed due to sand mining. Shailendra says he started conservation projects to counter the threats.
Giving an example of his work in the Chambal river, he says, “We started a conservation program in 2006 for the tortoise species Batagur Kachuga and Batagur Dhongoka. It was one of the longest-running expeditions where we protected nests from poachers and other anthropogenic pressures. We set up a ‘rear end release’ facility near Etawah and assisted a similar government facility in Madhya Pradesh to rear turtles.”
Turtle conservation program started on Chambal river
Shailendra explains about his method of work, “The place where the turtles live is identified and security measures are taken accordingly. Many eggs are preserved in safe water. Our radio-telemetry study gathered information about the conservation of turtles, according to which their survival rate was 80 percent.
He says, “The help of the local community goes a long way in this task. We started a community education program at the cluster level along the lower Chambal, involving 35 schools and over 4,000 children. We did some experiments to reduce the dependence of the local community on turtles to earn a living. We are working to make them financially strong through making artificial jewellery, sewing and schools.”
Do not keep turtles in the house
Shailendra says that since 2008, the population of 13 Batagur Baskos has increased to 380. In the year 2021, he was awarded the Behler Turtles Conservation Award. He says that different human relationships are used in conservation programs.
He said, “People in India also see turtles associated with religion etc. There are also some communities, who keep tortoises in the house for omen. We are using our network to help breed endangered species in villages and temple ponds. Our effort is to make people understand that they should not keep tortoise in the house.
Now Shailendra works as Program Director at TSA. He believes that the biggest issue today is the illegal turtle trade. “It is ironic that despite having such a positive relationship with humans, turtles are on the verge of extinction,” he says. He said that his goal is to protect at least one of the threatened Indian turtle species and develop a colony to ensure the future of the turtles.
Shailendra appealed to the society regarding turtles
Shailendra has only one appeal to the society, “Never keep turtles as pets or consume them as meat. He says, “I urge people to keep the nearby wetlands and rivers clean to provide safe habitat for the turtles. Local people should report any turtle sightings and illegal activities using Kurma mobile application. Please support organizations that save turtles and wetlands in your respective areas.”
He further said that the turtles need our support. He says, “I am fortunate to have contributed to his protection. I want to see a lot of turtles in clear water. Prehistoric creatures that have been living on this earth for about 200 million years. I urge all the youth and citizens to come together for their protection.”
Original article- Himmashu Nitnaware
Editing – G N Jha
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