On Tuesday, June 25, wildlife researchers spotted two Impressed Tortoises (scientific name: Manouria Impressa) in Yazali town of Arunachal Pradesh. This spotting of one male and one female individual is the first record of this species in India.
Once rescued, pictures of these creatures went viral among the conservationists across India. This medium-sized tortoise species is about a foot long, with the male members of these species being smaller than their female counterparts. They are primarily found in the hilly forests of the Indo-Myanmar region, but have never before been seen in India. Its name comes from the impressive colour and shape of its shell, which is golden-brown and serrated.
The expedition that found the tortoises included Bengaluru-based wildlife researchers from the Turtle Survival Alliance of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), India, a herpetologist from Guwahati-based NGO, Help Earth, and officials from the Arunachal Pradesh forest department.
“I saw it with two boys who were taking it home and seized it immediately. In life, I had never seen such tortoise, so I thought it should be rare, so I posted the pictures in WhatsApp groups for identification,” said Bunty Rao, one of the forest officials, according to NDTV. The pictures were uploaded to a wildlife forum called ‘Arunachal against Hunting’.
The species was identified from the pictures by the team’s herpetologist, Jayaditya Purkayastha. Later, he also confirmed his findings with the Turtle Survival Alliance and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
A landmark event for tortoise conservation in India
The Impressed Tortoise are a rarity even in the regions that they populate, and are described as a critically endangered species. Poachers often hunt these creatures for pet trade and traditional medicine. Wildlife researchers and conservationists hope that this finding will shift the authority’s focus towards protection of lesser-known species, beyond the popular wildlife conservation programmes covering rhino, tiger, and elephant populations.
According to a report by Deccan Herald, this rescue increased the number of tortoise species in India to five, and the total number of non-marine chelonians (that’s turtles and tortoises to you) in the country to 29 species.
According to a press release by WCS, the last reported spotting of the Impressed Tortoise was from Gwa in Myanmar, where the organisation is carrying out a conservation breeding of this species, before reintroducing them into the wild. This species is known for being difficult to keep alive in captivity, and therefore, this is an exercise requiring great diligence and expertise. “The latest sighting further raises the status of the country as well as the state on the list of strategic turtle conservation priority areas,” it stated.
Many are urging for an extensive herpeto-faunal survey of the northeastern region of the country to investigate and map similar occurrences, which can then advice conservation strategies and efforts.
In this instance, the tortoises were examined at the Itanagar zoo, marked, and photographed, before being released in the exact location where they were found.
What about turtles?
Northeast India is also known for its high turtle diversity. Precise data on their population and habitat has not been updated for over a decade, and this is hampering its study as well as conservation. The local turtle species are growing increasingly rare as they are being hunted for meat, according to a report by the Conservation Leadership Programme.
Tejaswi Subramanian is a senior editor at Qrius.
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