The municipal workers clearing the Rajindra lake in the midst of Patiala city of Punjab in northern India were in for a surprise when they accidentally found a rare and endangered turtle in one of the busiest roads of the city.

Representative image of Indian soft shelled turtle via biolib

The 70-year old reptile was rescued and then sent to the Chhatbir zoo near Banur town where senior wildlife officials confirmed that it was a soft shell fresh water turtle, a species that is now rarely found in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Soft Shell fresh water turtles have been declared as vulnerable under Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act.

Munish Kumar, the field director of the Chhatbir Zoo said, “To ascertain its sub-species, we may need to conduct its DNA analysis. After we received the turtle on October 25, we are studying its habits and behaviour.”

Surprise habitat

The fact that surprised the most about the turtle’s discovery at the lake was it managed to reach the lake in a busy locality and stay there inconspicuously. The lake is partially dry and not been receiving any fresh water since the past 13 years. It was therefore not an ideal home for the turtle in spite of which it did survive here.

Workers cleaning the Rajindra Lake in Patiala

Amrinder Singh Bajaj, the mayor of Patiala, explained that earlier, the lake received water through a stream from Bhakra main line (BML). But in the 1980’s the lake dried up. Since then intermittent attempts were made to continue the water supply to the lake, first in the 1990’s and then again in 2001. However it was discontinued a couple of years after 2001. Now the municipal workers had been cleaning the supply line from the BML canal again to revive the lake.

Fast facts about Soft shell freshwater turtles

  • Soft shell freshwater turtles belong to the family Trionychidae.
  • Soft shell turtles are so called because their carapace (thick hard shield) lacks horny scutes or scales and instead is covered with leathery skin.
  • The species are found in Asia, North America, Africa and the Indo-Australian archipelago.
  • Most of them are carnivores but some are omnivores.
  • Their habitats may comprise of lakes, ponds, brackish waters, slow moving streams and swift rivers, but a soft bottom is required.
  • They spend a lot of time buried in the mud.
  • Many vertebrates and invertebrates prey on eggs and the hatchlings, but threat to adults is posed only by humans and alligators.
  • Soft shell turtles are considered as a delicacy, predominantly in East Asia.

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About Shilpi Gemawat

A trip to the beautiful Gir Forest and a course in Biodiversity Conservation - that is all that was required for Shilpi to leave her day job and pursue her passion of writing and wildlife. She co-founded Eco Buddies, a Nature Trail group with like-minded friends to spread the word on conservation. A voracious reader and a fitness enthusiast, she currently works as a web content writer too and maintains her personal blog at

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