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Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) India, in conjunction with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department (UPFD) and the Endangered Species Project recently completed renovations on a building at Kukrail Conservation Center in Lucknow. The facility is now known as the Laboratory for Aquatic Biology (LAB).
The LAB will be used for a variety of objectives, including:
1. Monitoring, researching and refining the captive management of turtles and other species currently being held at Kukrail and other satellite facilities
2. Providing a link between in situ and ex situ conservation projects for freshwater and wetland species in the region
3. Assisting with freshwater species rescue, rehabilitation and veterinary care using a mobile rescue response team, and
4. Preserving and archiving biological samples and research regarding freshwater species management.
Congratulations to Team India on a job well done! Special thanks to the British Chelonia Group for their support of this project.
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Wildlife Week was celebrated in India this year from October 2-8. To commemorate the event, the TSA India team organized a painting/sketch competition and discussion on the topic "Impact of Interference of Humans on Wildlife" at St. Xavier's Higher Secondary School on October 3. The event was co-hosted by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department. A total of 60 students, from grades eight through ten participated.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Manoj Kumar Shukla, a Divisional Forest Officer. His presentation, "Threats of Wildlife and Role of the Students for Conservation" was enjoyed by all of the students in attendance.
At the end the day, refreshments were shared and certificates were distributed to all participants in the art contest. Those who were selected as winners received an additional prize.
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On August 11, the TSA India team conducted a rescue operation to protect Chitra nests from an island that was at risk of being washed away by a flood in the Yamuna River. The nests were removed and successfully transported to the Garhaita Turtle Survival Centre (GTSC) for incubation. In early October, a total of 123 turtles hatched.
On October 10, a meeting was held with Mr. Suresh Chandra Rajput (Range Forest Officer), to discuss the release of the hatchlings. Based on the results of that meeting, 87 hatchlings were successfully released. The release was held in the presence of Mr. Gurmeet Singh (Wildlife Warden) and a Range Forest Officer. The remaining 36 hatchlings are on hold for a later release, which is being planned along Yamuna River.
The TSA India team would like to thank Mr. Gurmeet Singh and Mr. Suresh Chandra Rajput for their valuable suggestions and kind support for this conservation initiatives.
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One of India’s most iconic and recognizable turtles, the Giant Narrow-headed softshell turtle (Chitra indica) has been a primary focus of TSA India’s program since 2007. Locating and protecting nests in the upper Ganges, Chambal and lower Yamuna river systems has resulted in thousands of hatchling being released that likely would have not survived. In the process, much has been learned about the nesting ecology, abundance and distribution of this heavily hunted species. However, efforts to start a pilot husbandry program, with the goal of refining captive rearing techniques that would allow the development of an assurance colony, have met with setbacks and frustrations over the years.
Juveniles, despite starting out well and feeding after hatching, generally languish and then perish during the often harsh winters of northeastern India. In an effort to reverse this trend, a solar water heater was installed at one of our captive facilities – Kukrail – and the enclosure was wrapped in plastic sheeting to retain heat. 50 hatchlings were retained for rearing in early 2013, but 30 perished due to temperature extremes. However 20 survived and now weigh more than 150 grams as of September 2013. Last week another 60 eggs from two nests were moved to Kukrail for incubation and headstarting again this year.
TSA India staff are also incubating two nests at our Garhaita center and five nests at a riverside hatchery near a key nesting site on the Yamuna river near the Chambal-Yamuna confluence. Additionally three nests were rescued from a flooded nesting area on the Yamuna, and transferred to Garhaita and might survive as well. So a total of 983 eggs are now under incubation at all three places. This year's Chitra field work is supported by a small grant from Turtle Limited.
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TSA India, in cooperation with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) and the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department (MPFD), operates a headstart facility for the Red-Crowned Roof Turtle (Batagur kachuga) in Morena known as the Deori Eco-Centre. The headstarting program, which has been in operation for about 9 years, aims to enhance natural recruitment in endangered populations by raising hatchlings in captivity until they reach a size at which their chance of predation is reduced, thereby increasing long-term survival.
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To commemorate World Biodiversity Day on 22 May 2013, the TSA-India Turtle Conservation Program and Uttar Pradesh Forest Department jointly organized an awareness program in the Garhaita Turtle Survival Centre at Garhaita village, Etawah. This program was a success - hosting 75 participants of all ages from the village of Garhaita.
Guests were welcomed by Mr. Ashutosh Tripathi (TSA India). The program began with a screening of the documentary film "She is Alive – Mother Earth". Next, a Chambal Prayer "Tohe Sumiron Chambal Maharani" was performed. The song was composed and sung by local community members with regional musical instruments. This prayer was dedicated to the vitalizing River Chambal which believed as the "Goddess" who supports a variety of critically threatened fauna and riparian communities. This prayer also elucidates the salient features and importance of the Chambal River as an ecosystem.
A conservation skit entitled "We Are in Peril" was presented by the village children, dressed in costumes depicting the threatened fauna of Chambal River. They performed the story of anthropogenic pressure on the existing faunal diversity of Chambal River.
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For the second consecutive year the world's known population of the Northern River Terrapin, or Sundarbans Batagur (Batagur baska), has more than doubled. Last year we reported on our first significant breeding successes of this critically endangered turtle, with 50 hatchlings produced at TSA supported breeding facilities in both Bangladesh and India (click here for details). This year the TSA is pleased to report the successful hatching of 117 B. baska, 61 in Bangladesh and 56 in India.
This species underwent a rapid decline over the past twenty years due to chronic egg collection and harvesting of adults for food, and was considered nearly extinct in the wild with no nesting populations known. Ranked #4 on the 2011 list of the World's 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles, the prospects for this species' recovery are much brighter today thanks to aggressive conservation intervention and the establishment of in situ captive breeding colonies. Those programs will see significant expansion over the next two years with funding from an SOS – Save Our Species grant, which will include building additional breeding ponds at the site in Bangladesh to allow for more controlled breeding and genetic management, surveys to try and locate remnant populations and potential release sites, and acquiring new adults for the breeding program. It is important to note that this program – at least in Bangladesh - was built by acquiring long-term captive terrapins that were kept for years in isolated home and village ponds as an egg source, survivors from a time when the species was more common.
At the Bhawal National Park facility near Dhaka, Bangladesh, facility manager A.G.J. Morshed reports that hatching began on 23 May, and that four clutches of eggs have produced 61 hatchlings. A fifth clutch was determined to be infertile. In total all five females in the breeding group laid a total of 99 eggs. Improvements to hatching success this year can be attributed to closer monitoring of temperatures during incubation, and keeping the nests protected from rain saturation. Stringent efforts were made to ensure that temperatures in the nest chamber were sufficiently high to produce females. This program is supported by the TSA and Vienna Zoo, in collaboration with the Bangladesh Forest Department, IUCN Bangladesh, CARINAM and our media partner Prokriti O Jibon. Special thanks are extended to Rupali Ghosh, Peter Praschag, Toni Weissenbacher and Brian Horne for their careful monitoring of the situation, both remotely and on site. Toronto Zoo is also recognized for their financial support.
TSA India Director Shai Singh reports that 56 hatchlings emerged at the Batagur breeding facility at on the night of 25 May, and a few more hatchlings are expected. The breeding center is located at the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve at Sajnekhali, in West Bengal. Shai will be going there the first week of June to inspect juvenile set ups and to make husbandry recommendations. This program is supported by TSA India, and managed in collaboration with the West Bengal Forest Department. Special thanks are extended to West Bengal Forest Department and their officers especially - Mr SB Madal,IFS, Mr Soumitra Dasgupta, IFS, Mr Jayanto Basu, Mr Bhaumik and Dr Gowri Mallapur - to make the project a success.
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From Bangladesh to Cambodia, River Terrapins (Genus Batagur) are laying eggs - and lot of them - both in the wild and captivity. Below is a brief summary of River Terrapin nesting activity in programs managed by the TSA and their partners.
Northern River Terrapin or Sunderban Batagur (B. baska): In Bangladesh, at the captive breeding center at Bhawal National Park, the first nest (19 eggs) was laid March 21, followed by two more nests on March 23, consisting of 22 and 14 eggs respectively. Apparently one of the two females dug up another female's nest while laying her own so there was some breakage and egg loss. Project Coordinator Rupali Ghosh was on hand for the nest digging. This is a joint program of Turtle Survival Alliance, Vienna Zoo, Bangladesh Forest Department and our newest partner, IUCN Bangladesh. There are 14.5 adults in this breeding colony (14 males and five females).
In India, at the B. baska breeding center at Sajnekhali, in West Bengal, TSA India Director Shai Singh reports that two females are emerging every night and making trial digs in the newly created nesting enclosure. Last year 50 total hatchlings emerged from these two Centers and we are hoping for a much better hatch rate this year. More good news: the Forest Department procured an additional adult female (22 kg) from a village pond in the northern Sunderbans, bringing the total number at Sajnekhali to 6.5.32 (six males, five females and 32 unknown).
All total there are now 20 males, 10 females and 55 unsexed juveniles of this rare Batagur in captive centers in Indian and Bangladesh and the conservation outlook is looking much brighter that it was just a few years ago when this species was ranked #4 on the list of the Top 25 World's Most Endangered Turtles.
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The TSA-India program is pleased to announce a newly formed collaboration with Turtle Limited, a ready-made men's apparel company based in Kolkata, India. Turtle Limited is one of India's fastest growing menswear companies, with a reputation for providing formidable value and international style across the range of shirts, t-shirts, trousers and accessories. The company's two iconic brands - Turtle and London Bridge, have proved to be game changers in the world of men's fashion.
Through this agreement, Turtle Limited has agreed to provide a yearly donation to support turtle conservation work in India. Additionally, the TSA logo will appear on their products, helping to spread the word about the TSA. This is the first collaboration with a corporate entity for the TSA-India program and we are hopeful that other Indian companies will follow suit. Congratulations to Shailendra Singh and his team for forging this relationship!
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TSA India, the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and the Gharial Conservation Alliance jointly organized an awareness event to celebrate World Wetland Day on 2 February 2013 at the Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre.
Participants were welcomed by Mr. VB Srivastava (Wildlife Warden, Endangered Species Project) through an informative lecture on wetlands for more than 100 participants consisting of high school students, forest department staff as well as local conservationists.
Dr. Pankaj Srivastava (Scientist of National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow) discussed the basics of wetland conservation and restoration. Ms. Sheena L. Koeth (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo/TSA) spoke about aquatic reptiles and their conservation. Additionally, Dr. Shailendra Singh (Director, TSA India) interacted with participants to inform them about current status of regional freshwater conservation areas and the iconic species of turtles and crocodiles that they harbor.
The program also included interactive games, educational materials and activities based on freshwater habitats and the species that they support. The event was a part of the “Regional Freshwater Biodiversity Conservation Campaign for 2013,” a yearlong project being spearheaded by the Turtle Survival Alliance.
Ms. Renu Singh hosted the sessions and presented wetland poetry for the students. Mr. Ayodhya Prasad (Range Officer, Kukrail Gharial Centre) gave a vote of thanks and distributed prizes to the winners of the interactive sessions.
The event was coordinated by Mr. Bhasker Dixit and Mr Ashutosh Tripathi (TSA). Mr. Suresh Pal Singh, Mr. Rohit Singh, Mr. Bahadur, Ms. Anuradha Rai, Ms. Geetanjali Sharma and staff of the Kukrail Centre greatly helped with the organization of the event.
The event was conducted under the guidance of Dr. Rupak De (Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife UP) and Sanjay Srivastava (Conservator, Endangered Species Project).
The event was supported by a grant from Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and received extensive local press coverage. Click here for a PDF of the article from the Sunday Pioneer in Lucknow.