Interview by Gokul G. K.
Remember the old Pokemon cards? Those vibrant ones with your favourite pokemon, its strength, its weakness, always there to give you a happy evening or fun weekend?
Now it’s time for a new set of cards that’s out there in the market, which not only ensures fun but knowledge, too.
The Indian chapter of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), a conservation organisation formed in 2001 as an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) partnership for sustainable captive management of freshwater turtles and tortoises, has come up with ‘Shell Shocker’ – a card-game on turtles and tortoises of India. Every card in the set contains five playing parameters which a player can compare with that of his opponent.
The TSA team believes that these cards will help spread awareness about the state of turtles and tortoises of India. We talked to Saurabh Dewan and Arunima Singh of the TSA to know more about these cards.
1) What motivated you to create the 'Shell Shocker’ cards?
India is a global biodiversity hotspot and home to 24 freshwater turtles, five tortoise and five marine turtle species. Notably, the Ganga and Brahmaputra River floodplains are among the world’s greatest turtle species richness areas, and together, harbour some of the rarest species found nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t even aware of this fact. With a motivation to create an opportunity for the general masses to experience this enormous biodiversity and develop a ‘personal connect’ with it, we created Shell Shocker – a card game on turtles and tortoises of India. This card game intends to reach out to those who are estranged to and unconcerned about the plight only because they are uninformed about these beautiful shelled creatures.
2) How do you think these cards can spread awareness about turtles and conservation to the public?
Each card in the deck of 36 is adorned with different species of native tortoises, freshwater and marine turtles, and exotics found across India. With the five playing parameters of Shell Length, Weight, Clutch size, Conservation Status and Threat Score, one can discover how species compare to each other. The deck is also jam-packed with interesting facts and graphics on the species’ diet, habitat and distribution.
Engaging the public via a game can help build broad-based support for the protection of several endangered species. As people can care only if they know, even slight familiarity or mere exposure via this game can help generate a positive attitude and change in perception, while deeper understanding in the long run can help them make well-informed decisions about their own preferences of having turtles as pets or for consumption or use of turtle products.
3) According to TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, more than a lakh tortoises and freshwater turtles were illegally traded in a 10-year period from September 2009 to September 2019. How grave is the situation?
It’s grim. Of all major vertebrates, turtles and tortoises are among the most endangered groups. As quoted by American Herpetologist, John L. Behler, “There is no vertebrate group facing greater survival problems today. Turtles saw the great dinosaurs come and go, and are now facing their own extinction crisis.”
The situation is quite alarming in India. 15 of India's 29 tortoises and freshwater turtles (TFTs) species, including 10 threatened species, are repeatedly surfacing in domestic and cross-border wildlife trade seizures. As per most conservative estimates, at least 200 animals are illegally traded every week – live/dead or hatchlings – and even the body parts such as the calipee, bones and carapace. Though various softshell species for long have been sought after to meet the illegal demand, the recent trends suggest a worrisome re-entry of hard shells, especially the Batagurs in the illegal wildlife trade. This trend is concerning due to the species’s limited surviving wild populations and threatened conservation status. In just seven months (between August 2020 and February 2021), over 9,000 freshwater turtles were reportedly confiscated within Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. However, the actual numbers may be much higher as most illegal consignments presumably go undetected.
4) Apart from illegal trade, what are the other threats faced by turtles?
Turtle populations across the globe are under intense anthropogenic pressure. They are being extirpated from their native range due to river development projects and increasing exploitation of the country’s watersheds for various purposes apart from agriculture land use of flood plains and increasing land and water pollution. Traditional hunting for meat as well as the consumption of eggs by some communities have further contributed to significant population declines. Another concern is non-native species entering India, such as the sliders and others, for domestic pet-trade. The challenges related to their management and ecology are huge and could have serious implications for the native species.
5) What is the current state of turtle conservation in India?
With only a handful of conservation organisations or researchers in India working directly on the freshwater turtles, the pace of conservation actions, significant scientific knowledge and policy-level interventions are too inadequate to keep up with the exponentially increasing threats. This has led to over 60% of India’s turtles and tortoises listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the global standard for extinction risk assessment. Three of India's turtles are listed in the world's top 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. Though the situation demands rapid and effective conservation actions, efforts are stymied by funding limitations, political constraints, and scarcity of scientific knowledge. Immediate approaches such as rapid assessment of populations throughout the major river systems in the country to establish a baseline data as well as an understanding of current population status and trends, with the implementation of focussed studies at least in turtle priority areas and concerted management actions in trade-prone regions can only further the cause of turtle conservation in India.
6) Could you also tell us about TSA’s efforts towards the conservation of turtles?
Turtle Survival Alliance-India Programme started in 2004, strives for state-of-the-art conservation, research, community outreach and conservation education. These services aim to bring turtles and other lesser-known aquatic wildlife and their habitats to the forefront of wildlife conservation in India. Headquartered in Lucknow, the programme is the longest-running and most comprehensive range country programme of Turtle Survival Alliance. With a commitment to conserving India’s freshwater ecosystems and a vision of eradicating extinction threats for the country’s key freshwater aquatic species, the TSA-India Programme positively impacts 20 of its 29 turtle species through a combination of actions as, wild population and habitat monitoring, nest protection and release of hatchlings, development of assurance colonies for select species, head-starting and reintroduction, rescue and rehabilitation of turtles confiscated from illegal shipments, community education and outreach activities designed to minimise threats to key populations alongside training and capacity building to ensure the next generation of turtle conservationists.
7) Finally for the readers, how and where can we get the Shell Shockers cards?
Anyone can place their orders at the link: https://form.jotform.com/211442737512046.
Orders will be delivered by the end of June 2021. All proceeds from this project will support endangered turtle conservation in the country.
Project Citation: Shell Shocker-A Card Game on Turtles and Tortoises of India, 2021. Peeyush Sekhsaria, Shailendra Singh, Saurabh Dewan, Aniruddha Ghosh, Arunima Singh, Sreeparna Dutta, Kritika Ranjan, Pawan Pareek and Arpita Dutta