• It received ‘divine protection’ for many years and now, the rarest of India’s 28 turtle species is back where it belongs – in the wild – where it went extinct years ago.
  • The black softshell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) figures in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List as “extinct in the wild”.
  • But a few temple ponds in Assam and Bangladesh are bringing these turtles back from the brink.
  • The other turtle species moved from the temple pond to the wild was Indian softshell (Nilssonia gangetica) and the peacock softshell (Nilssonia hurum).
  • This is a milestone in Assam’s turtle conservation history, and it would not have been possible without the interest shown by the temple authorities in the artificial breeding programme.
  • India hosts 28 species of turtles, of which 20 are found in Assam.
  • But consumption of turtle meat and eggs, silt mining, encroachment of wetlands and change in flooding pattern have had a disastrous impact on the State’s turtle population.
  • Unfortunately, 70% of the species found in Assam are threatened with extinction.
  • The temple ponds have more turtles than they can sustain and lack egg laying space because of so-called beautification of these ponds with concrete boundary.
  • Besides, temple turtles are fed non-natural food such as bread and wheat balls, which alters their biology.