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Wildlife biologists encourage people to spot endangered turtles, tortoises

Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises of India, founded by Vadodara’s Sneha Dharwadkar & Mumbai’s Anuja Mital, observed Turtle Spotting Week from May 17-23

As India waited with baited breath for the Lok Sabha election results on May 23, a few were engrossed with yet another serious stuff – recording the number of freshwater turtles and tortoises spotted in India as last Thursday was World Turtle Day too.

Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises of India (FTTI), a research and conservation group hosted by India Biodiversity Portal, in fact, scaled up its event this year and observed Turtle Spotting Week from May 17 to May 23.

Over the last two months since the FTTI launched its web page, 224 observations of freshwater turtles and tortoises have been recorded from across the country.

Sneha Dharwadkar, a herpetologist from Vadodara who co-founded FTTI along with Anuja Mital, a Mumbai-based wildlife biologist and herpetologist, said unlike sea turtles, freshwater ones and tortoises are much neglected reptiles. “Today, 17 out of 28 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises found in India have been categorised as globally threatened on Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Through the Turtle Spotting Week, we wanted to get more data on the species and reach out to people and seek their participation in our conservation efforts,” Dharwadkar told The Indian Express.

 

Dharwadkar, who is associated with a Bengaluru-based NGO, Centre for Wildlife Studies, is presently doing an independent study on turtles in Uttar Pradesh.

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Mumbai-based wildlife biologist Anuja Mital

As part of the week-long celebration, the FTTI appealed and encouraged people to click photographs of freshwater turtles and tortoises in their vicinity and upload them on the FTTI web page.

Mital, who as an associated of Wildlife Institute of India studied freshwater turtles of Ganges, said that their effort was to promote citizen science. “From the time we launched the FTTI till May 17 (when the the week started), we had received 170 observations from citizens. Throughout the Turtle Spotting Week, people uploaded around 50 observations. So, there is a spike in people spotting the species and sharing the information. This is encouraging. But this is not enough. We need at least 200 observations per species to plot a map of distribution of turtles and tortoises in India,” she said.

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Indian star tortoise

Mital is presently studying black softshell turtles in Assam, which have been categorised as extinct in wild. But Mital said that during the course of her studies, she has recorded 30 observations of the species. “This can help the black softshell turtles delisted as extinct in wild and instead be categorised as critically endangered,” she added.

India has 24 species of freshwater turtles and four species of tortoises and Mital said that barring one or two species, the rest had been covered in observations shared by the people.

Around 13 observations are from Gujarat ? three from Saurashtra and 10 from central Gujarat region. However, the most number of observations have been made in north and north-east India, the turtle hotspot of the country, and a sizable from south India also.

But Mital said that their work did not end on May 23. “This is an ongoing process. We want maximum amount of data about various species and photographs are very powerful tool,” she said.

Ravi Chellam, a wildlife expert and Chief Executive Officer of Metastring Foundation, an NGO which is a partner of India Biodiversity Portal, said the FTTI campaign will go a long way in conservation of the reptiles. “Our objective is to bring greater attention to the ecology and conservation status of this group of reptiles. We encourage all the participants to map, photograph and document as many individuals and species of freshwater turtles and tortoises of India and share this information on the India Biodiversity Portal,” he said.