The Turtle Survival Alliance India, a close partner of WCS-India, has been doing some amazing work across the Gangetic landscape in Uttar Pradesh and has recently begun to expand activities in parts of the north-east also. WCS-India Country Director Prakriti Srivastava who visited some of the sites with the project team was impressed with the dedication of the team and expressed a need to explore deeper ties with TSA India to foster conservation.
Besides its flagship turtle conservation activities which include a Nest Monitoring Programme for the Critically Endangered Red Crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga) in the National Chambal Sanctuary, long-term population studies along the Sarju Ghaghara River system and several captive breeding and assurance colony development programmes at the Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre, the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and the states of Nagaland and Assam, the TSA India has been actively involved in the successful rescue and release of Gangetic Dolphins (Platanista gangetica) and Gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) that often swim into canals and become trapped.
Capacity building events for vets, enforcement agencies and forest department staff, awareness events for public and school children at various sites including zoos has also kept the TSA India team busy this quarter.
Ms. Srivastava visited the Terai field site, where she joined TSA India’s team head Dr. Shailendra Singh and Mr. Bhaskar Dixit for a boat ride along the Ghaghara River in the district of Bahraich. This river has often been used as a release site for captive bred Gharials from the Kukrail Centre; the most recent involving the release of 25 tagged juveniles in March.
The visiting team observed several of these majestic animals lazing across the water’s edge, both wild and tagged. Additionally, they were also lucky enough to not only spot the Brown Roofed turtle (Pangshura smithii) but also had the unique chance to spot a large Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) swimming alongside the boat, as well as twelve sightings of Gangetic Dolphins.
Crowned river turtle
The trip also provided a pleasant surprise when a population of nearly 30 Indian Skimmers (Rynchops albicollis) was observed, a species that has never been recorded along this river before!
The team visited one of TSA India’s fieldsite along the Sarju River, where long-term population studies on freshwater turtle species have been conducted since 2014. Boasting of ten resident species in a 100km stretch of the river, the field team, led by Rishika Dubla, reports that this river has yielded a total of 415 turtles representing six species from sampling efforts in the months of February and March.
WCS-India Country Director observed the team in action as they sampled and collected data, and also encountered one of the most elusive turtles in India: the Crowned River Turtle (Hardella thurjii). The turtle is an underwater nester that prefers the sporadic deep pools found in this relatively shallow and thickly vegetated river. Plans to expand a bridge over the site threaten this currently healthy population.
A visit to the Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre and all the enclosures at the captive breeding facility, saw Ms. Arunima Singh and Dr. Raghavendra Sharma from TSA India show the various animals such as the Crowned River hatchlings; incubated from nests translocated from the Sarju River as part of a reproductive ecology study and the Indian Narrow headed softshell turtle (Chitra indica); juveniles who come from a batch that were hatched for the first time across the world at the Kukrail Centre under the guidance of the TSA India team and so on. The team then visited the Laboratory for Aquatic Biology (LAB) set up by the TSA India, where analyses of animal data, along with parasitology studies on captive animals is carried out.
The next day's visit to Chambal, threw light on India’s longest-running project on the protections of nests of the Red Crowned Roofed Turtle. Here, the temporary hatcheries set up annually along the Lower Chambal (UP side), this year alone holds nearly 299 nests (amounting to more than 6000 eggs) of the Red Crowned Roofed turtle and Three Striped Roofed turtle (Batagur dhongoka) which is being monitored by the TSA India researcher Pawan Pareek. The Interpretation Centre at Nadgawan is where TSA India has been playing an active role in working with the Forest Department.
The WCS-India Country Director who was elated to see the work being conducted by the TSA India, discussed ways to strengthen projects and extend further support to vulnerable species along the various project sites.