For the first time ever, the critically endangered Impressed Tortoise (Manouria impressa) has been found in India. Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department’s Range Officer Mr Bunty Tao locally rescued two tortoises from a hunter gatherer, which he photographed and sent to TSA/WCS-India turtle conservation program office for identification. A joint survey team of ITCP and Help Earth immediately rushed to AP to confirm the occurrence this species. This is the first record of the species from India, and increases the country’s turtle and tortoise richness to 42 taxa, the 3rd most turtle-rich country in the world. This finding further elevates the status of the country, as well as the state of Arunachal Pradesh, in the list of strategic turtle conservation priority areas.
This elusive, medium-sized tortoise species inhabits moist primary forest hill tracts of the Indo- Burma hot-spot (Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam). The last reported range extension of the species was from Gwa, Myanmar. Here, the TSA is currently carrying out a conservation breeding program for the Impressed Tortoise with hopes of reintroduction into the wild.
Dr Jayaditya Purakasthya (Helpearth) left and Shailendra Singh, WCS India (right)
The survey team who discovered the tortoises consisted of Mr. Bunty Tao and Dr. Bharat Bhushan Bhatt of the Arunachal Forest Department. Dr. Jayaditya Purkayastha of Help Earth and Dr. Shailendra Singh and Arpita Dutta from Turtle Survival Alliance/ Wildlife Conservation Society-India were part of the team, which went to the site to ID the species and interview forest officers in the hope to find a bigger population. Both specimens were examined, and photographed before being sending them to Itanagar zoo for health assessment and future release.
This finding emphasizes the importance of conducting extensive herpetofaunal surveys in northeastern India, especially along border areas. Future surveys will be carried out near the area of their discovery, and potential population locales elicited from interviews conducted with local residents. It is our hope that these interviews will lead to an ecologically viable population of the species in the area.
The survey team would like to acknowledge Mr Bunty Tao from Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department for providing necessary logistic support.