Wildlife & Biodiversity

Invasive south red-eared slider turtle poses threat to Indian biodiversity

This turtle is very small and easy to maintain and these features made them popular pets

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Thursday 08 September 2022
Red-eared slider turtle breeds faster compared to other local turtle varieties. Photo: iStock

The presence of invasive and non-native south red-eared slider turtles would lead to the extinction of native species of their own kind, according to experts.

India is home to 29 freshwater turtles and tortoise species of the 356 turtle species recognised worldwide and around 80 per cent of them are threatened, according to a 2020 study published in journal Reptile and Amphibians conservation and Natural History. The paper was published in 2020.

“The red-eared slider are native to south-eastern USA and Mexico, but have found their way across the globe including India through trade of exotic animals,” said Jayaditya Purkayastha, a wildlife biologist from Assam and a member of the IUCN turtle specialist group.

In India, keeping indigenous turtles as pets is prohibited under the wildlife protection act. But the foreign breeds are not restricted and are kept as pets in many families across India, Purkayastha explained.

It also not mentioned in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, he added.

The small and easy-to-maintain species is a hit in the pets market. The species breeds faster compared to other local turtle varieties. 

“As their size increases, they no longer fit in small tanks or ponds. The owners release them in the wild or nearby waterbodies and once released, they become a threat to the local fauna,” he added.

The species has a wide set of diet and eats almost all vegetation, unlike native species.

“The red-eared slider is also aggressive, it drives away the native species. Its paws are also lethal,” said Shailendra Singh, director of Turtle Survival Alliance, a non-profit which works for turtle conservation.

The species is already spread across many Indian states and poses a threat to all species of its kind, including soft-shell and hard-shell turtles.

“It is widely found in urban wetlands, such as — Sukhna lake in Chandigarh, temple ponds of Guwahati, lakes of Bengaluru, Sanjay Gandhi national park in Mumbai, Yamuna river in Delhi — among other water bodies,” he said.

These turtles should be restrained, captivated and sent to local zoos, he suggested.

The species is considered as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive non-native species. Also, the populations are observed in every continent except Antarctica and at least 73 countries, noted another study published in Reptile and Amphibians Conservation and Natural History.

“We need manual intervention to procure and rehabilitate these turtles from urban wetlands. A campaign to declare or give up turtles should be held to take these turtles in custody,” Singh said. 

He added that these turtles cannot be culled for sentimental value and other reasons but could be kept captive until their lifespan. These animals can be used for research and teaching purposes, he added.

The Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change has only an advisory in place to streamline the import and possession of exotic live animals in India, Singh mentioned.

The government advisory demands registration and declaration of progenies of the imported exotic live species. But there should be more rules to prevent the species from entering our environment and negatively impacting the environment, he added.

Purkayastha expressed fears that the turtle species, if unchecked, may become a nuisance like water hyacinth.

“The native plant species of South America was brought to India during the British era. Initially introduced in Kolkata, the plant is now present across the waterbodies in the country, choking them and affecting the local biodiversity,” he said.

He said the turtle species might have a similar impact on Indian water bodies and native species. “It is imperative to prevent more red-eared slider turtle from entering water bodies and take mitigation steps by government officials and environmentalist to address the issue,” Purkayastha said.

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