Breakout Year for India’s Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle

by Heather Lowe 

IMG_9451One of India‚Äôs most iconic and recognizable turtles, the Giant Narrow-headed softshell turtle (Chitra indica) hasbeen a primary focus of TSA India‚Äôs program since 2007.  Locating and protecting nests in the upper Ganges, Chambal and lower Yamuna river systems has resulted in thousands of hatchling being released that likely would have not survived.  In the process, much has been learned about the nesting ecology, abundance and distribution of this heavily hunted species.  However, efforts to start a pilot husbandry program, with the goal of refining captive rearing techniques that would allow the development of an assurance colony, have met with setbacks and frustrations over the years. 

IMG_9460Juveniles, despite starting out well and feeding after hatching, generally languish and then perish during the often harsh winters of northeastern India.  In an effort to reverse this trend, a solar water heater was installed at one of our captive facilities ‚Äì Kukrail ‚Äì and the enclosure was wrapped in plastic sheeting to retain heat.  50 hatchlings were retained for rearing in early 2013, but 30 perished due to temperature extremes.  However 20 survived and now weigh more than 150 grams as of September 2013.  Last week another 60 eggs from two nests were moved to Kukrail for incubation and headstarting again this year.

IMG_9485TSA India staff are also incubating two nests at our Garhaita center and five nests at a riverside hatchery near a key nesting site on the Yamuna river near the Chambal-Yamuna confluence. Additionally three nests were rescued from a flooded nesting area on the Yamuna, and transferred to Garhaita and might survive as well. So a total of 983 eggs are now under incubation at all three places. This year's Chitra field work is supported by a small grant from Turtle Limited.