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All about fresh water turtles

K. JESHI

Most kinds of turtles are now in danger because of human beings, says the booklet brought out by the Zoo Outreach Organisation.



BASKING IN THE SUN: Fresh water turtles taking time off. PHOTO: RITU RAJ KONWAR

Turtles have the reputation for being slow, lazy animals. But, do you know a turtle can be a fast swimmer? Only the tortoises that live on dry land are slow. A booklet on Indian freshwater turtles, produced by Zoo Outreach Organisation and sponsored by Chester Zoological Gardens, Great Britain, gives information about a few kinds of turtles, tortoises and terrapins that are found in our rivers and ponds, some rare ones and the most common ones.

The Kochi forest cane turtle is the smallest turtle and a fully-grown one will fit in your palm. Called vengal aamai in Tamil, these are endemic to Western Ghats and lives on the floor of the forests, among dead leaves, fallen logs and under large rocks. Tree felling for timber, or to make way for dams and housing has affected this turtle, which lives only in dense rain forests.

The booklet says most kinds of turtles are now in danger because of human beings. Some catch them for food and others use turtles to make medicines and tourist souvenirs. The crowned river turtle, the largest Indian freshwater turtle, found in the Brahmaputra, Ganga and Indus rivers, have orange stripes along their faces. Human-built dams have stopped these turtles from moving. Pollution of rivers poisons them. The Indian black turtle, kal or thanni aamai in Tamil is found throughout India and even in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

It spends most of the day sleeping or otherwise inactive, waking up after the sun goes down, to go looking for food, which includes grass, fruits, snails, prawns and the larvae of insects. Conservation scientists have ranked these under "vulnerable globally" category in the level of threat status to turtles. Vulnerable status is given when a species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. It is also the first threat category for ranking a species, when it has serious problems from human-related threats.

Threatened

The Assam roofed turtle and river terrapin are under the critically endangered species in India, the Indian flap shell turtle and narrow-headed soft shell turtle are grouped under the status of near threatened in India.

There is also information on Indian soft shell turtle, a ferocious turtle found in the rivers and their tributaries, ponds and lakes near these rivers, buried in the mud. It is vulnerable in India as thousands are caught every year for food. Development of rivers and creation of dams and pollution are other threats.

There is also a question and answer exercise at the end to update your knowledge on turtles.

Facts on the Asian turtle crisis and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) facts are also listed.

The mission of TSA is a group of individuals determined to prevent the extinction of turtles. It is helping Indian turtles by strengthening turtle facilities throughout India. You can read more about it on the web by visiting www.turtlesurvival.org

The booklet also lists out points individuals can follow to show their care for these animals.

Some of them include:

Do not eat turtles. Tell others also not to do so.

Do not buy articles made from turtles such as masks, drinks and medicines. Each item represents one dead turtle.

Read more about turtles.

Observe them in zoos, aquariums and in the wild.

For details on the booklet, contact: Zoo Outreach Organisation, 29/1 Bharathi Colony, Peelamedu, Coimbatore 641004 or e-mail: zooreach@vsnl.com. Ph : 0422- 2561 087/ 2563 159

Website: www.zooreach.org

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