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Where ‘holy’ turtles live in contaminated ponds

Where ‘holy’ turtles live in contaminated ponds

Around 500 turtles that live in two ponds at Arahalli village in Mulbagal taluk of Kolar district are fighting for survival as their habitat is polluted and has not been cleaned for years. What is making it worse is that though village residents consider the turtles to be auspicious, they continue to dump garbage into the ponds.

The ponds are so badly polluted that there is an overpowering stench around them. The problem is exacerbated by lack of awareness and ignorance among residents. For instance, waste from silkworm cultivation is thrown in as feed for the turtles, and this contaminates the water, said Honorary Wildlife Warden K.N. Tyagaraj. Both the ponds are bang in the middle of the village (which has 130 households) in Mudiyanur Gram Panchayat limits. One of the ponds is adjacent to the ancient Sri Venugopalaswamy temple, which was renovated a few years ago. Both the Revenue and Forest departments seem to be in the dark about the presence of turtles — the Indian flapshell variety, which is endemic to the region — in these ponds.

Though there are many ponds and tanks in the region, only these two water bodies are inhabited by a large number of turtles, said Muniswamappa, a resident of the village. The 70-year-old said locals consider the turtles to be holy. About 75 per cent of the households belong to Tathurayana gotra and consider the turtle as their home deity.

The village is also home to what appears to be a stone, which has an inscription and a picture of a turtle carved on it. If the inscription is deciphered, it may shed light on how this village became the habitat of turtles, said Mr. Tyagaraj.

“The residents act as protectors of the ‘holy’ turtles. We keep a watchful eye on them and drive away those who come to hunt them,” said Pushpa, a homemaker. Residents also expressed their ire over the authorities’ negligence in getting the kalyani cleaned. “Our repeated pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” Ms. Pushpa said.

The Forest Department ought to play an important role in providing suitable living conditions for the turtles. However, a study needs to be taken up first to determine the population of the turtles here.

K.N. Tyagaraj,

Honorary Wildlife Warden