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Rare black soft-shell turtle hatchlings released at Hajo temple pond
SIVASISH THAKUR
 GUWAHATI, Jan 6 - In a boost to turtle conservation, 14 black soft-shell hatchlings that were incubated at the artificial incubation and quarantine centre for turtles in the vicinity of the temple pond of Haigriva Madhava in Hajo were successfully released on Friday.The artificial incubation centre was set up by the Kamrup district administration in association with NGO Help Earth and the Haigriva Madhava Temple Committee to assist the hatching process of the extremely rare black soft-shell turtle (already extinct in the wild according to the IUCN Red List).

“The species was found to lay eggs around the pond area, but in most cases hatching success is very limited. It lays eggs with a clutch size ranging from 12-30 eggs, which generally take around 90 days to hatch. Under natural conditions, the species dig a hole of around 30-40 cm, whereas in the temple pond area of Haigriva, this is limited to 12 cm. This is mainly because, in natural condition the turtle has to deal with riverine silt which is much easy to dig than in the clay present in the surroundings of the pond. Lack of depth alters the incubation temperature and makes the egg susceptible to insects and fungus attack,” Jayaditya Purkayastha of Help Earth told The Assam Tribune.

Again, as the clay is more acidic and moist than riverine sand, it affects the shell of the eggs. “All these adverse factors justify the use of artificial incubation of the turtle eggs at the Haigriva temple,” he added.

The artificial incubation process started on 16 of a clutch of 30 eggs. The rest were left in the mother’s nest. Out of the 16 eggs artificially incubated, 14 eggs hatched, while all the eggs left in the mother's nest rotted.

“The eggs were laid on April 18, 2017, and got hatched between July 12-16, 2017. All the hatchlings were kept under captive care to help them attain adequate size to avoid easy predation and other threats,” Purkayastha said.

The hatchlings were released in the temple pond in the presence of representatives from the Kamrup district administration, temple authorities, and members of Help Earth and All Assam Students’ Union, and other allied Government departments.

Black soft-shell turtle is one of the rarest turtles of the world and is presently found mostly in temple and community ponds in Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, and also in neighbouring Bangladesh. Most of the soft-shell turtles, including the black soft-shell turtle are literally being devoured to extinction.

“Therefore, these temple ponds are the last refuge for the species, and failure to take immediate and adequate steps will seal the future of the species. According to a Help Earth study, there are 15 noteworthy temple ponds across Assam with turtle fauna in them. The pond at Haigriva Madhav Temple has the highest species diversity accounting for 14 species, one of which is the black soft-shell turtle.

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