by Sushmita Kar and Jordan Gray
Two weeks ago in Northeast India, one of the world’s newer wetlands was the recipient of a celebratory return to the wild for one of the most endangered turtles on the planet.
On the auspicious occasion of World Wetlands Day, February 2, 2022, TSA India Program, Assam Forest Department, and Nagshankar temple committee released 59 headstarted Black Softshell Turtles (Nilssonia nigricans) into a shallow lagoon of Chandubi Lake.
Chandubi Lake itself is a relatively new wetland, having formed just over 120 years ago, on June 12, 1897, when tectonic movement of the Earth’s crust instigated an earthquake causing the forest at the foot of the Garo hills to collapse inward and fill with water. The Black Softshell Turtle is a Critically Endangered species that was, until recently, considered Extinct in the Wild. The rare turtle once lived in Chandubi Lake—as part of the “Return to the Wild” program of TSA and our partners, with our help, it has returned there.
That day’s celebratory release is part of a much greater vision. In 2021, TSA and our partners in Northeast India signed the Black Softshell Turtle Vision 2030 agreement. It’s our goal to restore an ecologically viable population of 1,000 Black Softshell Turtles to the Brahmaputra Floodplain by the year 2030. Following the December 2020 inaugural release of 22 headstarted softshells, this year’s World Wetlands Day release further inches us toward that goal.
“This remarkable event is a stepping stone toward fulfilling our commitment along with other stakeholders of releasing 1,000 individuals of these turtles in the wild in next 10 years,” said Dr. Shailendra Singh, Director, TSA India.
Nagshankar Mandir is home to the largest captive group of Black Softshell Turtles in India. For the past several years, TSA India has been working with the temple committee, providing input on turtle care and health and assuring the survival of hatchlings from eggs laid along the temple pond’s perimeter. If a nest is detected, the eggs are collected and incubated at the temple under the guidance of TSA India staff.
From September 2021’s hatch, TSA India successfully reared 119 young turtles at TSA India’s Nature Discovery Centre in nearby Biswanath Ghat. TSA India staff transferred the remaining 60 softshells not released into Chandubi Lake on World Wetlands Day to a nursery facility at Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden. There, at the largest zoo in Northeast India, the turtles will further develop before also being released into wetlands formerly inhabited by the Black Softshell Turtle.
While the release of the critically endangered Black Softshell Turtles served as the highlight of the World Wetlands Day event, “Turtle Trail,” an educational trainer’s guide developed by TSA India, took center stage at the release ceremony. The Honorable Minister of Environment and Forests, together with other recognized personalities, distributed “Turtle Trail” from the podium. The guide serves as a means for which to promote education and awareness of the tortoises and freshwater turtles of Northeast India. Dr. Rajeev Basumatary, Project Advisor of TSA India-Northeast, said, “This book is very reliable for all age groups and categories of audience and well-designed with brain-storming activities, making it very interactive and informative.”
This World Wetlands Day program was organized by Assam Forest Department in collaboration with TSA India and the Nagshankar temple committee. The Honorable Minister of Environment and Forests, Assam, Sjt. Parimal Suklabaidya attended as Chief Guest. The MLA of Palashbari, Mr. Hemanga Thakuria, also attended the program, as well as Shri Amit Sahai (HoFF) and PCCF, AFD, Shri Kailash Karthik N, Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup (R), Dr. Satyendra Singh, Addl. PCCF (Wetland), Shri Sandeep Kumar, Addl. PCCF, LAZ, Shri Hirdesh Mishra, Addl. PCCF, UAZ, Shri Suman Mohapatra, Addl. PCCF & CEO CAMPA, Smti Dimpi Bora, Divisional Forest Officer, Kamrup West Division and Smti Shamin Akhtar, Range Officer, Loharghat of the Assam Forest Department, and Dr. Rajeev Basumatary, Mr. Hamidur Bhuyan, Ms. Sushmita Kar, Ms. Sounika Karmakar and Mr. Krishna Das of TSA India.