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Wednesday, Apr 20, 2005

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New breeding hopes for the endangered turtles

Marcus Dam

But it is a tall order for a vivarium being established in West Bengal

KOLKATA: A vivarium to breed endangered turtles is being set up by the West Bengal Fisheries Department. It will be situated alongside a research centre that will study on their behavioural pattern. Housed at the centre will be turtles belonging to at least 10 highly endangered species. These have been rescued from different parts of the State over the past few months.

The population of most of the turtle species found in the State is dwindling. Though many varieties have been listed under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, as being highly endangered, the law-enforcement agencies have failed to keep a check on their slaughter, the sale of their meat and their being smuggled out. In countries in South-East Asia and the West they are in demand for their ornamental value, Madhumita Mukherjee, Joint Director, Fisheries Department, told The Hindu here on Tuesday.

A world market

"The turtles are smuggled to Bangladesh, from where they are dispatched to international markets in the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom," according to Dr. Mukherjee. Turtle meat continues to be available in some markets. In fact, it is considered a delicacy of sorts. "Indeed, some of the turtles rehabilitated at the centre had been rescued from local markets in north Bengal," she said.

The nesting patterns of the turtles are being studied at the centre. So are their feeding habits. "Some of these highly carnivorous species are slowly turning to vegetable feed," Dr. Mukherjee said.

Destruction of habitats

Another possible reason for their dwindling number is the destruction of their natural habitats owing to environmental degradation, according to Saptarshi Biswas, District Fisheries Officer, Kolkata. "The slow-flowing rivers which are the natural habitat for the amphibian turtles are subject to pollution." Many of the ponds where they once abounded have either dried up or been reclaimed.

"The natural surroundings that have been lost to the turtles will be simulated in the vivarium that could turn into a veritable turtle farm in the future," Mr. Biswas said.

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