Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Turtle Day: New venture hopes to put spotlight on India’s freshwater turtles and tortoises

The first edition of the Turtle Spotting Week 2019 is a citizen science initiative by the India Biodiversity Portal

By Rajat Ghai
Last Updated: Thursday 23 May 2019
Cochin Forest Cane Turtle. Photo: Hari Krishnan
A Cochin Forest Cane Turtle. Photo: Hari Krishnan A Cochin Forest Cane Turtle. Photo: Hari Krishnan

In the run-up to “World Turtle Day” on May 23, herpetologists have launched a unique initiative to gather more information about India’s freshwater turtles and tortoises.

The India Biodiversity Portal (IBP), a website formed as “a repository of information designed to harness and disseminate collective intelligence on the biodiversity of the Indian subcontinent”, is hosting a week-long campaign on the animals.

Anyone who has an interest in Indian Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises can participate in the first edition of the Turtle Spotting Week 2019 (May 17 to May 23) and contribute by photographing, documenting and submitting observations of turtles and tortoises that they have observed around their neighbourhood, backyard water body or on wildlife trips.

There is a step-by-step procedure given to upload images and observations on the website.

According to a press statement released by the IBP, India harbours 28 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises, with Northeast and North India considered as Turtle Biodiversity Hotspots. Over 17 species are Globally Threatened in the IUCN Redlist and populations are under severe pressures of extinction due to a large number of human-made factors.

The press statement also advises people “to maintain precaution and hide the precise location while uploading information about species heavily susceptible to trade such as the Indian Flapshell Turtle, Indian Star Tortoise and the Spotted Pond Turtle.”

“We have received 50 observations during the week from various states including Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala,” Sneha Dharwadkar, a herpetologist who, along with wildlife biologist Anuja Mital, is in charge of the initiative, told Down To Earth. “We have got to know about the distribution of various turtle species that was not known till now. Much of the attention among turtles is on the marine varieties. This is the first time that people are talking about freshwater species. It is exciting,” she added.

Would this initiative be repeated next year? “We need more spotlight on these animals since there are no proper studies on them. We will try and repeat this exercise every year from now on,” Dharwadkar said.  

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