10 endangered turtles released into the wild in Sunderbans
KOLKATA: For the first time, 10 northern river terrapin, one of the most endangered species of turtles in the world, were released into the wild from a breeding centre in the Sunderbans in West Bengal on Wednesday.
Forest officials said the 10 turtles (Batagur baska) have been fitted with GPS transmitters and would allow experts to track them and know about their home range and the habitat.
“We have released 10 sub-adults including seven females and three males, in the wild on Wednesday after fitting them with GPS transmitters,” said S Jones Justin, deputy field director of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve.
Even though the species was once widespread in the mangroves and estuaries of West Bengal and Odisha, overfishing led to a rapid decline in their population. It is believed that only a handful of them may now be living in the wild in the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove delta.
In 2009, the reserve authorities and the Turtle Survival Alliance started a breeding programme at Sajnekhali. Three years later, the programme yielded results, and the first batch of hatchlings, around 33, were produced.
As the numbers started growing, in 2017, the population, which was contained in a single pond, was distributed in four ponds in the reserve. There are 12 adults and around 370 juveniles in the ponds.
“They have been reared for nine years in the ponds. On Wednesday, 10 were released in the wild (in rivers) after being fitted with GPS transmitters. The transmitters would help researchers track the turtles across the vast expanse of the Sunderban mangrove and generate data which would help in their conservation programme,” said a forest official.
The Sunderban mangrove, formed by the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, sprawls over 10,000 square km across India and Bangladesh, of which 40% lies in India. Surrounded by rivers and creeks, the mangrove is home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger and the estuarine crocodile. In India, it is confined to the southern tip of West Bengal.
Recent reports said the world’s largest mangrove delta is losing its dense forest cover. Experts said the rising salinity levels and increasing cyclones are taking a toll on the mangrove system. The mangroves act as a green barrier against cyclones and protect Kolkata from the direct brunt of storms that originate in the Bay of Bengal.