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Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Why do we need a World Turtle Day?
Why do we need a World Turtle Day?
A baby Indian Black Turtle rests on her mother’s back on the outskirts of Guwahati, Assam. | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar
In an attempt to raise awareness on conservation of tortoise and turtles, and on illegal trafficking, May 23 is celebrated as World Turtle Day. We take a look at various threats faced by the reptiles in India and the initiatives taken to save the animal.
One of the greatest threats facing turtles and tortoises in India is smuggling to East Asian and Southeast Asian markets. Many freshwater turtles and tortoises are considered delicacies just across the Bay of Bengal in Southeast Asia.
This has led to the creation of massive smuggling rings on the east coast of India that send live turtles to those countries. Some of these turtles are also smuggled to be kept as pets. In 2016 alone, 30,000 live turtles were confiscated from smugglers by the Indian government. In addition to live specimens, thousands of sea turtle eggs are dug up and sold as delicacies in Southeast Asian countries.
West Bengal has become a focal point of the turtle smuggling trade as many of the turtles make their way to Kolkata before being shipped off. The Indian government has worked hard to prevent smuggling through screening of shipments, confiscation, and arresting smugglers, but turtle smuggling is still a lucrative business in India.
In addition to smuggling, turtles face a variety of man-made issues that threaten their existence. One major threat, as with all other animal species, is habitat destruction. The Ganges and other major rivers of India sustain turtle life. As these rivers become more and more polluted, the turtles are beginning to die off at greater rates. The hatchlings are born deformed; adults are dying from eating plastic; and the food sources are disappearing.
Sea turtles are also suffering as seas and beaches are becoming polluted. Discarded plastic, toxic to sea turtles, often gets ingested. Many sea turtle hatchlings get caught in trash on the beach and are eaten by predators. Large fishing trawlers also sometimes catch sea turtles, cut off their flippers to get them out of the net, and then leave them to die. These issues must be dealt with to ensure these magnificent animals continue to have a future.
On a more positive note, there is also a lot of work done for the conservation of turtles in India. One well known and effective venture has focussed on the protection of Olive Ridley sea turtles on the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Sea turtles always return to the beach they were born on in order to lay their eggs. These eggs and hatchlings often come under threat from humans and predators like stray dogs. A major conservation effort has been "turtle walks". The “turtle walks” involve many local people who carefully dig up the nests along the beaches and take the eggs to a protected spot to make sure the eggs are not stolen or eaten.
LONG WALK TO A NEW LIFE: Olive Ridley hatchlings heading towards the sea at R.K. Beach in Visakhapatnam. | Photo Credit: K.R. Deepak
When the eggs hatch, volunteers move the hatchlings to the sea so they are not killed crossing the beach. These turtle walks have proven effective as they get the local community involved and endear the sea turtles to the people of the area. Other conservation efforts include the creation of protected areas on the Ganges where endangered river turtles are kept secluded from the greater environment in order to protect them from smugglers and monitor their breeding. Many of the turtles confiscated from smugglers also often go into rehabilitation and then captive breeding programs to help create a stable captive population of the rare turtle species of India.