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Turtles found in State's historical temple ponds facing extinction

                                                                                                  The Sentinel, Guwahati, 28th April, 2013

With turtles fast disappearing, various historical temple ponds in Assam have become the last hope for survival of many of the endangered turtle species found in the State. In the Hindu religion, turtles are considered to be the second incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

But large–scale pollution of these temple ponds is making the survival of turtles found there very difficult. Most of these temple ponds also don’t act as natural habitat for turtles, creating difficulty in their survival and breeding.

To find out the condition of turtles found in some of the historical temple ponds in the State, Guwahati–based wildlife conservation NGO Help Earth has conducted a survey recently.

The NGO recently surveyed eight historical temple ponds, including Atkhelia Temple Pond, Golaghat; Barokhelia Temple Pond, Golaghat; Deopani Temple Pond, Diphu; Gorokhiya Gohainr Than Pond, Sorbhog; Kamakhya Temple Pond, Guwahati; Madhab Temple Pond, Hajo; Nagsankar Temple Pond, Sonitpur and Ugratara Temple Pond, Guwahati where some endangered turtle species are found. Besides these historical temple ponds, the NGO also surveyed two of the biggest wetlands of the State – Chandubi Beel and Deepor Beel.

Jayaditya Purkayastha of Help Earth said, “During the survey, 12 turtle species were cited in eight temple ponds. Ten turtle species we have found are endangered while for two no data on their status are available,” adding, “A very less number of turtles were found in Chandubi Beel and Deepor Beel during the survey, which is really disturbing. The reason: Large–scale capturing of turtles by the local people for their meat.”

It may be mentioned that of the 29 species of freshwater turtles found in India, 20 species of freshwater turtles are found in Assam and most species of freshwater turtles found in the State are endangered.

Why are the turtles found in these temple ponds are facing extinction? In his answer, Purkayastha said, “Most of these temple ponds which we surveyed are polluted, mainly because of non–biodegradable materials such as plastics as well as food items thrown by the temple visitors as part of their religious beliefs. The colour of water of most of these ponds is muddy brown and the water of these ponds is coated by a greenish algal layer. The ponds’ areas are found to be littered with papers, plastics, banana peels, etc. Most of these ponds also don’t have natural settings to help facilitate breeding of turtles. People in these temple areas often kill turtles for their meat, when these turtles come out of the ponds and move to nearby open spaces for breeding. Turtles love to stay in freshwater bodies which are located in open spaces.”

“Nilssonia Nigricans species of turtles which are found in the Kamakhya Temple Pond are on the verge of extinction as the water of the temple pond has become highly polluted due to unwanted human activities. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considered Nilssonia Nigricans as ‘extinct in wild’,” Purkayastha added.

Nilssonia Nigricans are freshwater turtles and are mainly found in the flood plains and wetlands of the Brahmaputra in the State.

The survey also found breeding problems faced by the turtles in these temple ponds. At the Ugratara Temple, where Help Earth has set up breeding facilities for turtles, the concrete perimeter of the pond has been the major problem for the breeding of turtles. The perimeter of the Ugratara Temple Pond is concrete, leaving no option for the turtles to lay eggs. “To facilitate breeding, a corner of the Ugratara Temple Pond has been provided with river sand bed so that turtles can use it as a breeding spot,” Purkayastha said.

The NGO member further said that people’s help are necessary for the conservation work of these endangered turtle species found in the historical ponds across the State.