Posted by : sanne

The Hindu, CHENNAI

Twenty-six painted-roofed turtles KACHUGA KACHUGA are all set to return to the wild, after they were bred in captivity at the Madras Crocodile Bank.

Three years ago the Uttar Pradesh State Forest Department and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) came together in a project to conserve fresh water turtles and tortoises. It was funded by Turtle Survival Alliance.

Two pairs of painted-roofed turtles were loaned to the MCBT for breeding. The ideal habitat, proper diet and better rearing management techniques adopted by the Bank yielded results and in April 2004 the first clutch of 19 eggs hatched successfully at the MCBT, according to Harry V. Andrews, the Trust director. The next year another clutch of eggs hatched. "The young turtles were carefully nurtured in the Croc Bank`s nursery, and are now ready to embark on their way home," he adds. Endemic to the Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems, these turtles are classified as `critically endangered` in the red-list of the International Union for Conservation of Natural Flora and Fauna and under the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of flora and fauna.

The breeding males are attractively coloured animals, with blue-black heads and a broad red patch on the forehead, two yellow stripes on the sides of the head and six red stripes on a cream coloured neck. Interestingly the females grow bigger than the males. Mr Andrews said an adult grown up male turtle measures about 35 cm, while the well-grown adult female measures up to 55 cm.

Destruction of nesting beaches due to sand mining, agriculture, destruction of nests by predators including community dogs and poachers, drastic changes in river levels due to construction of dams, increased siltation and pollution besides non-availability of data for good management practices were some of the threats faced by these turtles, which had forced them to the brink of extinction. Mr Andrews said: "Fresh water turtles are important for riverine ecosystems for they keep an effective check on the growth of water weeds. Some turtle species keep fish stocks healthy by preying on sick, dead and a few predatory fish species," he said.

Despite the fact that the painted-roofed turtles categorised under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of India, their population continues to decline in the wild, Mr Andrews added.