by Heather Lowe
The Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is a critically endangered species endemic to North-eastern India and Bangladesh. It was long thought to exist in only one temple pond in Bangladesh. Fortunately, the species has been confirmed at a few spots in the Brahmaputra River drainage in the state of Assam and in some of the region’s temple ponds. The species continues to be hunted extensively for its meat and cartilage, and numbers in the wild remain dangerously low.
Since 2013, TSA India has worked diligently to improve conditions at selected temple ponds in Assam where these turtles were discovered. Many of the ponds were eutrophic and overcrowded and often, turtles were fed human food as religious offerings. The turtles showed signs of poor nutrition and a lack of suitable nesting space resulted in eggs being deposited in areas where there was little chance of hatching. The goal of the project is to eventually rear and release juveniles from these captive colonies to supplement depleted wild populations. As part of that initative, the TSA India team camped at the Nagshankar temple in April to observe nesting in the 40-45 adult females at that location. At that time, the team transferred ten nests to a hatchery and protected four nests onsite.
We are pleased to announce that so far, 44 turtles have hatched! The team is currently expanding our headstarting facility at Nagshankar temple to accommodate this year’s hatchlings. This will enable us to hold as many as 100 juveniles for the next six months, in addition to 15 juveniles from last year. Neonates and juveniles cannot be released back into the temple pond due to predation by larger turtles and exotic fish. For this reason, we acquired an earthen pond in the nearest village to provide space for the fast-growing juveniles, improving survival prospects for this extremely rare softshell.