Poached Turtles Released into the Wild in India

For Immediate Release

CONTACT:     

JORDAN GRAY, Turtle Survival Alliance, (912) 659-0978, jgray@turtlesurvival.org

• 147 Indian Roofed Turtles (Pangshura tecta) and 119 Pink-ringed Tent Turtles (Pangshura tentoria circumdata) seized from poachers in Telangana released into the wild in their native Uttar Pradesh
• Turtles released into the Gomti River following quarantine at the joint Uttar Pradesh Environment, Forest and Climate Change Department/TSA India Program Laboratory for Aquatic Biology at the Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Center
• First interstate repatriation of freshwater turtles for the state of Telangana and fourth such in Indian history

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) on Friday announced the return to the wild for 266 native Indian freshwater turtles seized from illegal wildlife trade. This release epitomizes a public-private collaboration to re-wild animals seized from illegal trafficking, and demonstrates a commitment to returning poached wildlife to the wild.

A cohort of Pink-ringed Tent Turtles await their return to the wild.

On Sunday, September 19, 2021, 147 Indian Roofed Turtles (Pangshura tecta) and 119 Pink-ringed Tent Turtles (Pangshura tentoria circumdata) were transferred from Nehru Zoological Park in Telangana to the joint Uttar Pradesh Environment, Forest and Climate Change Department (UPFD)/TSA India Program Laboratory for Aquatic Biology at the Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Center (KGRC) near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, for pre-release quarantine. At KGRC, the TSA India Program’s Arunima Singh and Priyanka Khatayat provided primary care for the 266 turtles.

Depositions from the apprehended poachers identified a stretch of the Gomti River near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, as the turtles’ origin. Following four-weeks of quarantine at KGRC, during which Center staff assessed the turtles for symptoms of disease and conducted pre-release wellness examinations, TSA India Program, UPFD-Avadh Division, and UPFD Endangered Project staff released the turtles back in the Gomti River.

Ms. Priyanka Khatayat bids farewell to a handful of Pink-ringed Tent Turtles prior to their release in the Gomti River.

“India is home to myriad beautiful turtle species, many of them prized in the international pet trade. This native biodiversity, however, belongs to India and all Indians, not just those wishing to exploit it for personal profit. The return to the wild for these poached turtles demonstrates TSA’s commitment to protecting India’s natural heritage and ensuring that India’s native turtles can thrive in the wild,” said Dr. Shailendra Singh, Director of the TSA India Program.

To facilitate return of these aquatic turtles to their origin in the wild, the TSA India Program partnered with Nehru Zoological Park, Telangana Forest Department (TFD), Uttar Pradesh Environment, Forest and Climate Change Department (UPFD), and Air India. The turtles were housed at the Nehru Zoological Park in Telangana from early August 2021 until their transfer to Uttar Pradesh was finalized following court orders and legal proceedings. TSA India Program partner Air India expedited the transfer of turtles from Hyderabad to Lucknow through air travel in specially designed cargo containers.

Ms. Priyanka Khatayat, Mr. Suresh Pal Ji, and a UPFD staff member release turtles along the river’s edge.

“India is among the most biologically rich countries in the world for turtles and tortoises. But, with an ever-growing population in the country and a global market that seeks out attractive or rare species, these turtles are a target. Despite strict laws protecting many of the species, rampant illegal collection continues,” said Rick Hudson, President of Turtle Survival Alliance. “Yesterday’s release shows that TSA and our partners are devoted to returning poached turtles to their rightful place in the wild, wherever and whenever possible.”

In August 2021, two citizens of Hyderabad were apprehended by law enforcement officers of Telangana Forest Department for attempting to sell the protected turtles to aquarium shops. The accused confessed to poaching the turtles from the Gomti River near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Following their seizure, the turtles were assigned to the Nehru Zoological Park for care until they could be repatriated to Uttar Pradesh. This, the first such interstate repatriation for the state of Telangana, sets a precedent for the state for repatriating confiscated wildlife to their origins when known.

Ms. Arunima Singh admires a Pink-ringed Tent Turtle prior to its release along the densely vegetated shoreline of the Gomti River.

India is third in the world in terms of freshwater turtle and tortoise diversity with 41 native species and subspecies. More than half are listed as Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Neither the Indian Roofed Turtle nor Indian Tent Turtle are regarded as Threatened; however, due to their decorative coloration and relatively small size, they are commonly sought-after species for the pet trade. International trade in these species is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—the former an Appendix I species and the latter, Appendix II. Furthermore, the Indian Roofed Turtle is listed as a Schedule 1 species under the Indian Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, giving them absolute protection from collection and trade.

Indian Roofed and Pink-ringed Tent turtles explore the Gomti River’s shoreline following their return to the wild.

The return of the 266 Indian Roofed and Tent turtles to their rightful place in the wild was made possible through the assistance of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests-UPFD Mr. Pawan Kumar Sharma, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests-TFD Ms. Sobha Royyuru, Nehru Zoological Park Curator Ms. VVL Subhardra Devi, Chief Conservator of Forests-Lucknow Circle Mr. RK Singh, Division Forest Officer-Avadh Mr. Ravi Kumar Singh, Mr. Imran Siddiqui, Mr. Sujeeth Thalwar, Sub Divisional Officer-Avadh Mr. Alok Pandey, Conservator of Forests-Endangered Project Mr. Manoj Sonkar, Wildlife Warden-Endangered Project Mr. Abu Arshad Khan, and Air India.

Photo credits: Dr. Shailendra Singh/TSA India Program

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About Turtle Survival Alliance

With a vision of zero turtle extinctions in the 21st century and a mission to transform passion for turtles into effective conservation action, the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) was formed in 2001 in response to rampant and unsustainable collection of Asian turtles supplying Chinese markets. Since its inception the TSA, a with 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has become recognized as a global force for turtle conservation, capable of taking swift and decisive action on behalf of critically endangered turtles and tortoises. TSA employs a three-pronged approach to turtle conservation: 1) restoring populations in the wild where possible; 2) securing species in captivity through assurance colonies; and 3) building capacity to restore, secure and conserve species within their range countries. In addition to the Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina, TSA manages collaborative turtle conservation programs in 15 diversity hotspots around the world. For more information, visit: www.turtlesurvival.org; http://www.facebook.com/turtlesurvival; www.instagram.com/turtlesurvival; @turtlesurvival on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. JW on November 3, 2021 at 1:25 pm

    Interesting coverage. Due to their natal homing, I thought turtles could only be returned to the wild if their precise origin could be identified. How does this work if the turtles were removed from unknown locations? Any information about survivorship? thanks!

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