The battle to bring freshwater turtles back from the brink

Source– The post is based on the article “The battle to bring freshwater turtles back from the brink” published in The Hindu on 2nd December 2022.

Syllabus: GS3- Conservation

News– The article explains the issues of turtle trafficking in India.

Recently, West Bengal Police seized 270 kg of turtle calipee in Malda district.

What is the status of turtles in India?

India has 29 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises. The main difference between the two is that turtles are primarily aquatic whereas tortoises are terrestrial and spend more time on land. More than half of the turtle species are threatened and 11 are protected under Schedule I of The Wildlife Protection Act.

Recently, the Conference of the Parties adopted India’s proposal to transfer two species of freshwater turtles found in the country. These are the red-crowned roofed turtle and the Leith’s Softshell Turtle to Appendix I of CITES.

What are issues associated with trafficking of turtles?

According to the study, at least 111310 tortoises and freshwater turtles were trafficked from September 2009 to September 2019.

They are being illegally traded as pets, for food, or to prepare medicines. India is reported to be one of the world’s major sources and consumers of turtles and tortoises.

The TRAFFIC India report stated that an unknown proportion of illegal wildlife trade presumably goes undetected,

People who live in the Barasat and Bongaon areas of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district are responsible for more than 50% of the country’s consumption of turtles.

The pet market for trade is serviced mostly by air now. Agencies do not have the intelligence about them.

What are some successful initiatives by government agencies to protect turtles from trafficking?

The WCCB has carried out a pan-India crackdown on turtle smuggling. Between December 2016 and January 2017, it launched ‘Operation Save Kurma’ to prevent poaching, transportation and illegal trade of live turtles and tortoises.

Two more such initiatives, called ‘Operation Turtshield-I’ and ‘Operation Turtshield-II’ from 2019 to 2021 were taken up to tackle the illegal trade of live turtles.

What are some success stories related to conservation of turtles?

Conservationists face the challenge of rehabilitating the animals rescued from the illegal trade back to their natural habitats. Organisations such as the Turtle Survival Alliance have assisted in the rehabilitation of over 30,000 rescued turtles over the past 10 years.

The Turtle Survival Alliance, along with the Forest Departments of U.P. and M.P., has also been credited for conserving critically endangered red-crowned roofed turtles in the Chambal landscape. Attempts have also been made to conserve the critically endangered black softshell turtle in its natural habitat — temple ponds of Assam.

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