by Heather Lowe
In one of the TSA’s most grassroots (and successful!) programs, team member Rupali Ghosh regularly visits fishing villages throughout southern Bangladesh, scouring markets and private ponds for any remnant individuals of the Critically Endangered Sundarbans River Terrain (Batagur baska). Through her hard work and determination, a breeding colony with fourteen males and six females has been assembled at Bhawal National Park that has bred successfully in recent years and is helping to pull this species back from the brink of extinction.
During her most recent trip, where she was accompanied by a team from Save Our Species (SOS), Rupali was interviewing fishermen learned that a local fisherman had captured a wild hatchling back in June (very encouraging news for a species that was recently believed to be extinct in the wild!), but that it had died. However, she also got word of a potential large female in a neighboring village. She and the team mobilized and the tip was correct – they found a large (18 kg) female that was being kept tethered in a private pond as a pet. The turtle’s owners reported that they had owned the female for 16 years.
Rupali began negotiations with the turtle’s owner, hoping to purchase the female and add her to the breeding colony, where she can contribute to the conservation of her species. After haggling over the price, the family agreed to sell the female to Rupali the next morning. She was removed from the pond and her tether was cut as several neighbors from the village looked on. In a touching moment, the turtle’s owner took a moment to say goodbye to her longtime pet before the team moved her into a container for safe transport. The acquisition of this large, beautiful female will bring the number of females in the breeding colony to seven and will further diversify the genetic base. Kudos to Rupali and her team!
The breeding program at Bhawal National Park is collaboratively managed by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Vienna Zoo, and IUCN Bangladesh, with financial support from the Columbus Zoo and SOS – Save Our Species.