Activists want forest dept to create facility for rescued star tortoises
With the number of star tortoises being rescued in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai and other areas spiraling, the lack of space available with NGOs and the forest department to keep them has become a major cause of worry. In fact, Thane Society and Prevention of Cruelty Animals (TSPCA) has put forth a proposal to the forest department to set up a ‘rescue and transit’ facility at Karnala bird sanctuary where these tortoises can be fostered for a while and then attempts can be made to release them back in their natural habitat.
Star tortoises are a species protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and are one of the highest and most popular selling tortoises in the illegal pet markets of Mumbai. People consider them lucky and harbinger of good fortune.
Debashish Majumdar, vice president, TSPCA said that in the last two months they must have got at least 200 star tortoises varying from 10 centimetres to a few feet long. While a majority were seized from shops during raids, others were pets that were sick and were either abandoned or given up by owners. « Where do they go? We have run out of space to keep them. Even the forest department does not have adequate room, » stated Majumdar.
Star tortoises require a lot of care and upkeep and it was during a meeting with the conservator of forest, Karnala, that TSPCA put forth the proposal for a rescue and transit facility. « There are a few empty enclosures that were built, which now can be converted into a facility for star tortoises. Even some turtles can be kept in them by converting them like their natural habitat — especially like sun-basking areas, since most of them die due to lack of sun basking. Gradually, once they learn to survive, they can be released in their natural habitat, » said Majumdar, adding that they were ready to raise funds for the facility.
In fact, several activists who have been rescuing star tortoises, flapshell turtles and others, claim that at times they feel sad that the lives of these animals become worse after rescue since the forest department keeps them in small boxes, plastic trays and on concrete floors. Most of them don’t survive. « What is the purpose of rescuing these tortoises if they continue to suffer? Hence, having a good facility is extremely important. In fact, recently after 112 star tortoises were rescued by the forest department from illegal pet shops, they had no space to keep them; so, we took them to Byculla zoo. What if we get 200 more in the coming months? Where would we take them, » questioned Pawan Sharma, president of RAWW, an NGO working on urban wildlife. « Hence, having a dedicated centre for rescued star tortoises and other turtles is becoming essential, » he added.
Divisional forest officer (anti-poaching) Pravin Patil agreed and said that there was an urgent need of such a facility. « We have discussed the proposal with TSPCA and we will surely work together on ensuring that we can set such a facility soon, » said Patil.