Freshwater turtles and tortoises are among the threatened taxa facing extreme survival challenges in terms of habitat destruction, illegal trade, targeted hunting for meat and eggs, and various other anthropogenic activities. India harbours 24 species of freshwater turtles and five species of tortoises where most of the turtles are protected under various schedules of Wildlife Protection Act 1972. However, there exists a lack of awareness and knowledge about these charismatic species, their distribution, and their ecological importance in nature.
Over a decade, Turtle Survival Alliance India (TSAI) Programme has been functioning in India as a joint initiative of Turtle Survival Alliance and Wildlife Conservation Society-India to protect the freshwater chelonians and their habitats through various conservation, research and community outreach programmes to bring turtles, as well as other lesser-known aquatic wildlife and their habitats on the conservation map of the country. Leading to the five turtle priority areas, the programme has been committed to various in situ conservation programmes, assurance colonies, and conservation breeding programmes at flagship regional centers that are part of recovery programmes for eight high-priority species.
This year, the programme has protected over 6,500 eggs of the red-crowned roofed turtle and the three-striped roofed turtle, and released over 5,000 of the hatchlings in the Chambal River through in situ conservation initiative in National Chambal Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh. Additionally, under the conservation breeding programme at Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre, the team is monitoring the breeding biology of 13 species of freshwater chelonian.
World Turtle Day is celebrated every year to raise knowledge, awareness, and respect for turtles and tortoises around the world and to encourage local actions to help our ‘Turtle Friends’ survive.
On this World Turtle Day, TSAI hosted a virtual art contest, ‘Plastron Picasso’, inviting entries of the budding aspirants to show their love and adoration towards their ‘Turtle Friends’ to help in conserving the species and their habitats. Marking the month of May as ‘Turtle Month’, this year, TSAI has encouraged various artists, writers, photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts through daily informative posts on social media.
Shell Shocker card game
We launched the multiplayer turtle card game, Shell Shocker. Each card in this delightful deck of 36 is adorned with different species of native tortoises, freshwater and marine turtles, and exotics found across India. Discover how species compare to each other and battle it out against five interesting parameters. The deck is also jam-packed with interesting facts aimed at generating awareness about several endangered species – all through a fun card game!
Casual playing or classroom learning, social events or meeting ice-breakers, this pack is simple enough for kids and complex enough for adults.
A year after the release of the first of its kind ‘KURMA-Tracking Indian Turtles’ app, Indian Turtle Conservation Action Network unveils the KURMA website. With an aim to make reporting turtle sightings and rescues easier, the website comes equipped with all the pre-existing features of the app. Now not only can one report turtle sightings, one can also share interesting stories about one’s experience and connect with other turtle lovers across the country.
The app was created to encourage citizens of India to take an active role in turtle conservation – by asking them to record their sightings and turtle rescue details on to the app, thus helping in creating a nationalised turtle database. While initially limited to only tortoise and freshwater turtles of India, the KURMA website and app will now include the option to record sea turtles and invasive turtle species as well. It will also contact us to alert the team of rescue cases that need immediate intervention so that necessary assistance from experts can be provided at the earliest.
Currently, the app has around 2,000 users from across the country and nearly 250 uploads of observational sightings and rescues from various regions. 23 of the 29 species of tortoise and freshwater turtles found in India have already been recorded on the app. It is seen that the most commonly sighted and rescued species is the Indian flapshell turtle (Lissemys punctata), a species that is commonly found all over India but is heavily poached. Some rare and endangered species such as the keeled box turtle (Cuora mouhotii), the Indian roofed turtle (Pangshura tecta) and the three-striped roofed turtle (Batagur dhongoka) have also been recorded in the app.
As of now, 41% of all recorded rescues are of wild individuals that were found injured or stranded, while 18% are from personal holdings and 4% from commercial markets. However, despite being the biggest threat to turtle survival in India, only 8% of the rescues have been reported from the illegal wildlife trade. This underscores the importance of the general Indian public's easy access to wildlife rescue and reporting measures in the fight against wildlife crime, which remains to be a dictum of Indian Turtle Conservation Network (ITCAN), made possible by the KURMA app and now, also website.