GUWAHATI, Aug 20 - The rare black soft-shell turtle � already categorized as �extinct in the wild� by IUCN � could get a fresh lease of life, thanks to a captive breeding initiative at the famous Hayagriva Madhav shrine pond of Hajo near here.
At present the turtle is known only from the temple and community ponds in Assam, Tripura and West Bengal in India, and in Bangladesh. Most of the soft-shell turtles, including the black soft-shell turtle, are literally being eaten away to extinction.
The ban on turtle trade eased the situation only to an extent, with turtles still bearing the brunt of unorganized trade. This has rendered the temple ponds the last ground for the species, and unless effective and immediate interventions are made, it will soon become extinct.
The initiative is based on two principles � captive breeding in temple ponds and restocking of the wild population by releasing the hatched turtles into the wild.
A study by NGO Help Earth identified 15 temple ponds across Assam with turtle fauna. The pond at the Hayagriva Madhav Temple at Hajo has the highest species diversity, accounting for as many as 14 species, including the black soft-shell turtle.
�The species was found to lay egg around the pond area, but in most cases the hatching success is very limited. This species is seen to lay egg with a clutch size ranging from 12-30 eggs. Eggs generally take around 90 days to hatch. In natural conditions, the species digs a hole of around 30-40 cm whereas in the temple pond area of Hayagriva, this is limited to 12 cm. This is mainly because, in natural conditions the turtle has to deal with riverine silt which is mushy and easy to dig compared to the clay present in the surroundings of the pond area,� herpetologist Jayaditya Purkayastha of Help Earth said.
Another concern stems from the lack of depth which alters the incubation temperature and makes the eggs susceptible to insects and fungus attack. Again, the clay is more acidic and moist than the riverine sand, affecting the shell of the eggs. All these make sense to initiate artificial incubation of turtle eggs at the Hayagriva temple.
�We have created an artificial incubation and quarantine centre for turtles in the vicinity of the pond at Hayagriva Madhav with the assistance of the Kamrup district administration and the Hayagriva Madhav Temple Committee,� Purkayastha said.
Out of a clutch of 30 eggs of the black soft-shell turtle, 16 were artificially incubated and the rest left in the mother�s nest. Out of the 16 eggs artificially incubated, 14 have already hatched and the other two eggs are still in the state of incubation. The other eggs left in the mother�s nest got rotten.
The eggs were laid on April 18 and got hatched between July 12-16 July. �This is a major success story in terms of future survival of the black soft-shell turtle. Such efforts can bring this species back from the brink of extinction,� he added.
The plan now is to release the newly-hatched turtles into the wild to help the wild population grow. But before that step, the turtle has to be kept in quarantine till they are big enough to be released into the wild.
Purkayastha also thanked Kamrup DC Vinod Seshan, local MLA Suman Haripriya, temple doloi Siva Prasad Sarma and caretaker of eggs Pranab Malakar for the initiative.