World Turtle Day Celebrated in India

by Heather Lowe 

Figure_A_optWorld Turtle Day was observed on May 23 at various project sites of the Turtle Survival Alliance’s India program to raise awareness about the diversity and threats to the nation’s non-marine chelonians. TSA has been organising such education and awareness campaigns and events targeting various stakeholders along with its turtle conservation and research projects across the country to celebrate different dates of environment calendar since 2006. One event was held at the Turtle Conservation Centre along National Chambal Sanctuary River in Garhaita village, Etawah.

Figure_C_optThe TSA has been conducting conservation, research and awareness projects targeting the Red Crowned Roofed Turtle, Batagur kachuga and sympatric three striped Roofed Turtle, Batagur dhongoka since 2006, the longest running program in the country. More than fifty children and community members were treated to a colorful skit that featured an educational message about the freshwater animals of the Chambal River and the threats that they face. This was enacted by a team of village children who did a great job entertaining their guests. Subsequently, the children participated in eco-games and puzzles designed to covey the importance of all aquatic species and challenges they face along Chambal due to increased anthropogenic activities. The day was concluded with the release of hundreds of Batagur kachuga hatchling turtles from the Garhaita riverside hatcheries into the Chambal River. The release was done by the village children and they seemed to enjoy it greatly!

Indoor community programs like this one are conducted at the John Thorbjarnarson Memorial Chambal Conservation Centre, an education facility funded by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. This event was made possible by a dedicated project team including Mr. Ashutosh Tripathi, Mr. Khem B Bhadauria, Ms. Linthoi Naorem, Mr. Govind and a few volunteers from Garhaita village. Mr. Samir Whitaker and Mr. Tarun Nair of Gharial Conservation Alliance also assisted the event in various ways.

DSC07508_optIn Terai (Himilayan foothills), another TSA project site, a poacher conversion workshop was organized by Mr. Pradeep Saxena. Here, a TSA team has been working to safeguard threatened turtle species like Chitra indica and Hardella thurjii since 2007. Poaching for meat and cartilage has been identified as major direct threat to the native turtles of Sarju and Ghaghra river system. For that reason, the TSA has been organising such workshops since 2008 to convince turtle poachers to opt for some environmentally-friendly alternate livelihood options, rather than killing turtles to sell to middlemen for a nominal price. More than twenty-two poachers attended this workshop that was conducted at Ghaghraghat, along the Ghaghra River. After heated discussions lasting more than two hours, the attendees promised not to be engaged in any turtle poaching activities and join a TSA run river conservation committee for next three years and seek for some other possible livelihood. At the same time, the TSA team promised to help getting the ex-poachers the support they require through running government schemes for capacity building. This was thirteenth such workshop that has been held in the area.

The same day, an awareness camp was organized by Mr. Shashwat Sirsi along Krishna/ Tungabhadra Rivers at Singanoor in Raichoor district of Northern Karnataka. This event involved more than forty community members from a hamlet of the Bengali community and made them aware about local turtle species and their habitats. This camp was thought to be involved in turtle exploitation since its time of settlement. This awareness camp was the part of the TSA‚Äôs new initiatives for status surveys and conservation of two threatened softshell turtle species, Nilssonia leithii and Pelochelys cantorii. All World Turtle Day events were held in association with the National Chambal Sanctuary Project/ Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, with support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Gharial Conservation Alliance.