65 exotic turtles have made 122-year-old pond at Mumbai’s Juhu temple their home
Native to southern US and Mexico, the turtles have flourished ever since 40 of them were released into the pond 10 years ago
For the past 10 years, a pond at 122-year-old Jakhmata Devi temple in Juhu has been a sanctuary for 65 red-eared slider turtles.
Native to southern United States and Mexico, the turtles have flourished and grown in numbers ever since 40 of them were released into the 10x12 feet pond located on the premises of the half-acre temple plot near International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple.
“They have grown, multiplied and the numbers are now more than 65,” said Manorama Rane, 86, Juhu village resident, caretaker of the temple premises. She is the granddaughter of Raghunath Rane, who built the temple in 1896 after he found an idol of Sitala Devi at the site. Five generations of the Ranes have been looking after the temple.
As per International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), red-eared sliders are among the commonly traded turtles in the world.
According to Manorama, her grandfather had planned to create a well to provide water for temple but ended up excavating an impression of Brahma’s lotus foot, which prompted him to name the pond Brahmakunda after its completion. The pond is also home to fish, including catfish (magur). However, water level in the pond is precariously low, said Rane.
“While the water level has deteriorated significantly since its construction, it has never dried up in more than 100 years,” she said, adding the temple is the oldest in the area which was once forested. “We do not feed the turtles or the fish. They fend for themselves. It is better that way.”
The temple remains open to public from 9am to 11am and 4pm to 6pm every day. The private plot, however, is under stress from outsiders as there is four-foot boundary wall around the temple and barbed wires fence at one end.
“Passers-by dump garbage and throw food into the pond for turtles, despite telling them not to. People have even brought turtles and tortoises to the spot and left them here. However, none of the other species have survived. We buried the dead turtles in a corner of the temple premises,” said Rane.
On several occasions, some of the turtles have been stolen from the area, she said. “I have filed complaints with the forest department and the local police, but nobody seems to care because there are many,” she said .
Apart from Rane, three of her friends Kavita Raut, Meena Juhar, and Geeta Kubal, all senior citizens, help her protect the temple premises. “At 86, she (Manorama) has tried everything she could to protect the temple. We help her keep the premises clean,” said Raut.
“The number of devotees visiting this temple increase significantly during Navratri. At this time, she needs help to ensure people do not steal the turtles or disturb their habitat. We help her protect them,” said Kubal. Forest department is unaware of the exotic turtles in Juhu. “This is the first time we are being informed about these turtles. We will depute a team to visit the site,” said Santosh Kank, range forest officer, Mumbai.