by Shai Singh
TSA’s nest protection program for endangered turtles on India’s Chambal River is in tenth year. To date, the program has been highly successful, protecting early life stages of two threatened species of turtles belonging to the genus Batagur – the Red-crowned Roof Turtle and the Three-striped Roof Turtle. The program began with thousands of hatchlings from various riverine hatcheries as well as several assurance colonies. Preliminary studies on the survival and dispersal patterns of individuals released through this comprehensive headstart program indicate encouraging results for these species.
This year, for the first time in the project’s history, we experienced an unprecedented flood which washed away all three temporary hatcheries along upper, middle and lower stretches of the Chambal River. The event occurred as a direct result the erratic release of water from an upstream dam, causing a flash flood and the inundation of key nesting sites at the three hatcheries.
TSA’s field team immediately swung into action and rescued all 81 nests near Baroli (upper section) and 31 nests near Raipur Khurd (middle section). The nests were relocated to higher ground on the same sand bars. Concurrently, 187 nests were moved into plastic containers as there was no dry sand left on Garha sand bar along the lower section of the river. An additional team was dispatched to evaluate other possible loss to due flooding by using a motorboat. The assessment by motorboat indicated that there was flooding of over 300 wild turtle nests along a 150 km stretch of the river.
Soon after the floodwater receded and the substrate was deemed conducive for proper incubation, all the eggs were moved back to the beach. In spite of this significant setback, we were able to protect 88 Red-crowned Roof Turtle nests and 321 Three-striped Roof Turtle nests, all of which would have been lost without these efforts. We are glad to report that in spite of the emergency handling and translocation, we were able to achieve an 82 percent hatching success! We recently released over 1,400 Red-crowned Roof Turtles hatchlings and 8,000 Three-striped Roof Turtle hatchlings near their original nesting sites, which we believe will serve as a great boost for the wild population.
The rescue operation was led by Ashutosh Tripathi, Saurav Gawan, and RK Sharma and assisted by Jailabdeen Jaila and the hatchery staff. The dedicated team worked tirelessly throughout the event, risking their own lives, to translocate vulnerable nests. We thank Madhya Pradesh Biodiversity board for financial support and coordinating with dam authorities to avoid such situation in future. We’d also like to thank Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Forest Department for administrative and logistical support for this operation.