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Northern river terrapins

The Problem

Northern river terrapins are freshwater turtles that were once found in many of the large rivers and estuaries of the coastal district of the Sundarbans region. The Sundarbans are well known wetland, famed for their wildlife, which span India and Bangladesh. Even though large areas of the Sundarbans are now protected, unfortunately the long history of exploitation and lack of enforcement in both countries has resulted in catastrophe for these turtles. 

With no record of them in the wild for over a decade in Bangladesh and even longer in India, the northern river terrapin is the world’s second most endangered turtle, and on a dangerous trajectory towards extinction. With fewer than 100 adults in captive collections across the globe, action is needed now to ensure they have any future in the wild.

The solution

PTES is supporting the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Sunderban Tiger Reserve (STR) of West Bengal Forest Department to create a conservation strategy for these creatures. A team, led by Shailendra Singh, will carry out work that involves captive breeding and reintroducing individuals back into the wild. A conservation breeding programme has successfully been established, now reintroductions and monitoring are critical to ensure the turtles dispersal and survival. In a project supported by PTES, the team has already released ten individuals.  They are fitted with acoustic transmitters but even with intensive manual monitoring we have not managed to trace the individuals due to the vastness of the mangrove habitat into which they were released.

So the strategy needs refining. Four individuals (two young males and two young females) from the current cohort will be fitted with satellite transmitters and released into new areas, where their dispersal and survival in the wild will be monitored. This will help inform us what makes a viable release sites aid the team in identifying ideal habitats that may have surviving individuals. Shailendra and his team will develop and maintain a breeding pedigree of hatchlings during each breeding season to ensure that the turtles being released have good genetic diversity.

Their work will also involve speaking to local fishermen who claim to have seen northern river terrapins in the wild in the last few years. If we can find extant populations whilst releasing new animals, we stand a chance of restoring this wonderful creature back to the wild.

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