Bengal forest dept to release 2nd batch of endangered turtles with GPS tags

Kolkata: The West Bengal forest department is planning to release another batch of batagur baska, a critically endangered freshwater turtle species, tagged with GPS transmitters in Sundarbans this year to understand its survival and dispersal patterns, an official said on Friday.

Ten batagur baskas – seven females and three males- were fitted with GPS device and released in a river in Sundarbans mangrove forest on January 19 after being reared in a pond in Sajnekhali area in South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal Chief Wildlife Warden Debal Roy told PTI.

“The ten critically endangered turtles were reared over nine years. We aim at releasing the second batch of 20 subadult batagur baskas this year,” he said.

Batagur baska, also known as northern river terrapin, is widely regarded as one of the most endangered freshwater turtles in the world, Roy said.

“Only a handful of the turtle species may be surviving in the wild across the vast expanse of mangrove swamps and tidal rivers of Sundarbans spanning southeast India and southwest Bangladesh,” he explained.

The baska population “declined sharply due to unsustainable harvesting”, the official said, adding that the species now teeters on the brink of functional extinction.

A joint exploration by a team of Turtle Survival Alliance India Programme and Sundarban Tiger Reserve in 2008 found a cohort of eight males, three females, and one juvenile batagur baska in a pond in Sajnekhali, Roy said.

“In the Sajnekhali pond, we had started with 12 turtles and now the number has gone up to 370. We aim at reaching 1,000 in captivity by next year. The GPS tagging will enable real-time monitoring of the turtles and help get information about their reproduction and the way they adapt to the environment,” he said.

This will also help “understand survival and dispersal patterns of the freshwater turtles” and plan large scale release programmes in the future, the forest official said.

The exercise will provide basic ecological data on the conservation requirements for them, he added.

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