The extirpation of turtle populations in many regions of Asia has been driven by increased market demands for turtles as food, traditional medicine, or pets, resulting in unprecedented trade and trafficking of wild turtle populations.
Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) India is dedicated toward conserving non-marine chelonians, crocodilians and cetaceans and functions as a field program of WCS-India through five field based projects across the country in Ganges and Brahmaputra system.
Laboratory for Aquatic Biology project at Kukrail Centre, Lucknow
The TSA has collaborated with the Uttar Pradesh Forest and Wildlife Department to set up conservation breeding programs for endangered turtles such as the Crowned River turtle (Hardella thurjii), Indian Narrow-headed softshell turtle (Chitra indica), Indian Softshell turtle (Nilssonia gangetica), Spotted Pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii) and the Red-Crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga) at Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre, Lucknow.
The Kukrail Project team supports the Special Task Force and Forest Department in providing support to the high volumes of illegal turtle trade in the state through on-site triage for rescued animals, housing them in quarantine ponds during rehabilitation and assisting with the release of healthy animals.
TSA believes in building capacity in order to affect change at the highest level. We run training programs to help government officials identify species, understand the right post-rescue husbandry procedures and interpret the intricacies of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Red-crowned Roofed Turtle Recovery Program in Chambal
The Chambal River, acting as a state boundary between Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, has an abundance of freshwater turtles, migratory and residential aquatic birds, and Gangetic Dolphins. However, the area’s flagship species, the Red crowned Roofed Turtle, once widespread across the Gangetic Basin. has now dwindled to a last surviving population of less than 500 nesting females in the river. Eggs and hatchlings are depradated by Indian Golden Jackals, while adults may often die as accidental by-catch in clandestine fishing nets or via direct poaching for the exotic pet market in Asia. Extreme habitat degradation due to clandestine sand mining and the erratic release of water from dams upstreams further threatens nesting habitats and population regeneration.
The Turtle Conservation Centre, located in Garhaita village on the banks of the Chambal, focuses on a combination of in-situ and ex-situ efforts to save this species from the brink of extinction.
Started in 2010 with support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, the project involves the set up of make-shift hatcheries along nesting sites of the Chambal River, where staff walk an average of 20 km a day to search for nests, before transporting them to a hatchery. The hatchery is manned round the clock for the entire duration of nesting and incubation. Once the nests have hatched, hatchlings are again transported and released at their natal sites.
Additionally, the project team also engages in conducting awareness and education programs for the riparian schools, designed to help teachers introduce conservation learning into their regular school curriculum via specially tailored activities and environment-themed games for children.
River Conservation Centre along Tarai Arc Landscape
The River Conservation Centre, supported by the Disney Conservation Fund and the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, was started in 2014 to mitigate fishing practices detrimental to local turtle populations. The center has developed various livelihood models for the local community such as pisciculture, vermiculture, fungiculture, vegetable gardens and poultry as alternatives to fishing.
The Sarju-Ghaghra River system is a unique unprotected tributary system of the Gangetic Basin, its claim to fame being home to ten of the fifteen species of freshwater turtles found in Uttar Pradesh. To better understand this uncharacteristic abundance as well as the related population distribution and species assemblage, a long-term mark-recapture study was started in 2014. Till date, nearly 3,000 animals have been sampled. A simultaneous study on the unique and barely understood reproductive ecology of the Crowned River turtle (Hardella thurjii) is also being conducted; it is suspected that the species nests underwater — a phenomenon documented in no other Indian freshwater turtles species.
Nature Discovery Center
The Nature Discovery Center on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River along the fringe of Kaziranga National Park is a joint venture between the Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd., the Assam Forest Department and TSA. The aim of this center is to spread awareness about the biodiversity of the landscape in an interactive and dynamic capacity, as well as to provide scientists with a base station for their research focused on two endemic species of the Northeast: the Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) and the Assam Roofed Turtle (Pangshura sylhetensis).
Northern River Terrapin Recovery Project in Sunderbans
The Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska), found in West Bengal’s Sundarban Tiger Reserve (STR), is the world’s second most endangered turtle. The Sunderbans Field Project focuses on the recovery of this species.
After an obscure reference to contrasting hatchlings from an Olive Ridley Nest Protection Program in the STR, the project team conducted extensive censuses of various ponds that matched the description of the paper in 2008 and eventually discovered 13 individuals. In 2012, these individuals were successfully bred in captivity and a conservation breeding programme was established between the project team and the Sundarban Tiger Reserve (STR). The project also sought to understand post-release survival and dispersal of captive animals by using sonic telemetry, where acoustic tags are attached to sub-adults before their release into the wild. The team aims to repeat this exercise using satellite transmitters, in partnership with a team conducting similar research and conservation work in Bangladesh. Our aim is for both countries to work in tandem to learn from each other’s successes and limitations towards the common goal of saving the species.
Nagaland Field Project
The Asian Forest Tortoise (Manouria emys), also known as the Asian Brown Tortoise, is an endangered species that has nearly been wiped out from its distribution range in Southeast Asia. TSA has set up a captive breeding program within the Dimapur Zoo, Nagaland. In 2018, via artificial incubation, the team successfully hatched neonates of the species in the first year of the project’s inception. We aim to increase hatching success by further developing artificial incubation facilities and releasing animals tagged with transmitters to monitor their survival and dispersal with the objective of informing future reintroduction programs. Furthermore, the team also aims to establish participatory conservation of released animals focusing on communities living within Community Conserved Areas. Currently this project manages 15 adults and 75 juveniles.
National Chambal Sanctuary Project Agra, Chambal Conservation Foundation, Help Earth, Nagaland Zoological Park - Dimapur, Special Task Force of UP Police