The black soft-shell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) thought to be extinct in the wild and found only in few temples in India and Bangladesh, might soon join the woolly mammoth and the sabre-toothed tiger in the list of extinct species unless tangible measures are taken to protect the rare species.

Black Soft-shelled Turtle or Bostami Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is said to be Extinct in the Wild

The turtles, popularly known as Bostami turtles, have been declared as ‘extinct in wild’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and are known to be found only in the tank of the Tripuresware Temple in Udaipur, 55 km from Agartala in Assam, India. The Kalyan Sagar Lake on the eastern side of the temple is the lone natural habitat for the Bostami turtles.

But while the turtles have lived peacefully in the temple pond for a number of years, recent developments are hampering their existence, so much so that the rare species may soon totally vanish from the planet.

Cementing their Tombs

The fifteenth century temple located in Gomati district in Tripura is also known as Kurma Pitha due to its unique Kurma or turtle structure. Constructed by King Dhanyamanikya, the temple is revered as one of the holiest Hindu shrines in India. Feeding the turtles is part of the temple ritual, and tourists and visitors usually purchase crumbs, puffed rice or biscuits from adjacent shops in order to feed the turtles that come up to the banks.

The cementing of the lake embankments recently by the Matabari Temple Committee has adversely affected the turtle populated, with at least seven deaths reported within a year of the construction.

“As an amphibian it is extremely essential for the turtle to have sandy exposure, which is not available in the lake after the construction of walls around the water body,” says Mrinal Kanti Dutta, a professor at Central Fisheries College, Lembucherra.

Jyoti Prakash Roy Chowdhury, an environmentalist and a member of the State Wildlife Board, added that the pucca embankments prevent from climbing onto the sand banks to bask in the sun. She suggested that the embankment on the far side of the lake be dismantled, and the adjacent land be acquired to provide a natural sand habitat for the turtles to lay eggs.

The temple authorities also dealt with another menace earlier. The influx of visitors to the temple brought with it the inevitable problem of polythene bags, which eventually ended up in the lake. This prompted temple authorities to ban carrying of polythene bags around the temple area long before the official ban in the entire state in 2002.

Early in the year 2003, a team of scientists and engineers from the Tripura State Pollution Control Board (TSPCB) visited the lake to assess the vulnerability of the turtles. Test results showed that the water quality in the lake was drinkable.

Good news is, Roy Chowdhury also revealed that a population of these turtle had been identified in a pond near the Kamkhya Temple on Nilachal hill in Guwahati, Assam.

“It has been found that at least one wild population still exists in the Jia Bhoroli River, a tributary of Brahmaputra in Assam”, he added.

But he suspects that breeding in small communities in lakes or ponds may lead to genetic problems and the big need now is to cross breed turtles thriving in different ponds.

For a turtle that is so rare that is only found in one secluded area in Assam, it is important that every member of the species be looked upon as a symbol of the survival of that species and government as well as general public take the proper care to save it.

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Image via Wikimedia commons by Rohan Uddin Fahad

About Rohit Daniel

Rohit Daniel is freelance writer, photographer and an educator. He is an avid nature lover and enjoys travelling. He believes that animals have an equal right to our planet, and without wildlife this world would be an empty and meaningless piece of dirt floating in space.

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