The rare turtles hatch from eggs rescued from the banks of a flood-prone Nepal river

  • Conservationists in Nepal have successfully rescued and hatched hundreds of narrow-headed Indian soft-shelled turtles (Chitra indica) from a riverbank in Chitwan National Park.
  • Three weeks after hatching, nesting sites were flooded; Out of 496 eggs, 375 hatched successfully after about seven weeks at Chitwan’s gharial breeding centre.
  • Narrow-headed soft-shelled turtles are an endangered species, threatened by hunting for their meat and consumption of their eggs, as well as habitat degradation, but are not the subject of any specific conservation programs in Nepal.
  • Conservationists have urged the government to focus more on the species, saying it would not cost much and would only require the will to act.

KATHMANDU – Ranger Bed Bahadur Khadka was walking along the banks of the Rapti River near Chitwan National Park to monitor gharials released from a breeding center in August 2020 when he came across a turtle nest.

“We found the nest very close to the flood zone of the river,” said conservationist Santosh Bhattarai, who visited the site after the discovery. “After looking at the eggs, we came to the conclusion that it belonged Chitra indicator.”

They could have left the eggs in their natural state to fend for themselves, conservationists write in a recent study in the journal. Tropical natural history.

A nest belonging to the Indian narrow-necked turtle was found on the banks of the Rapti River in Chitwan, Nepal. Photo courtesy of Bed Khadka

“However, we decided to save the eggs, which were likely to be washed away by the river swollen by the monsoon rains and hatched at a nearby gharial breeding centre,” Bhattarai said, adding, “We decided to save the eggs. The global wildlife conservation agency has been listed as an endangered species by the IUCN.

C.indicator, or the Indian narrow-headed soft-shelled turtle is found in the major rivers of the Indian subcontinent such as the Ganges, Sutlaj and Indus. But it faces a number of dangers. “We don’t know much about their numbers because we haven’t done much research on them,” said conservationist Prakash Chandra Aryal, co-author of the book. Turtles of Nepal: A Field Guide to Species Accounts and Distribution.

According to the field guide, turtles are found on the sandy banks of large rivers, near deep and running water. During the monsoon season, from August to September, they spend the day in the water and come ashore to lay eggs. They feed on fish and molluscs, attacking them at high speed, as well as carrion.

The main threat to the species is capture by humans, whether intentional or unintentional. Aryal said that in the latter case they are considered a delicacy. Bhattarai said that in some parts of the turtle’s range, people raid nests for eggs that contain 60 to 180 eggs. They then eat the eggs like chicken eggs.

“There is a myth among local people that when someone cooks turtle meat, it can be used to feed everyone in the house, regardless of the number of people – everyone should eat until they are full.”

Another threat is the degradation of river ecosystems throughout the subcontinent. Bhattarai said especially in Nepal, rivers are under a lot of stress due to human activities such as sand mining, construction of dams and pollution.

When the team again patrolled the river in Chitwan on September 2 and 3, they found two more nests. Another co-author of the study, Saneer Lamichhane, said that the first had 120 eggs, the second had 197, and the third had 179.

“It’s not every day that we come across nests like this with so many eggs,” he said.

“Previous studies have shown that the maximum number of eggs per nest is around 178, but we found 197 in one of the nests,” Bhattarai said. “This could indicate that the mother turtle is in good health.”

The team then collected all the eggs and brought them to the gharial breeding center to hatch there, citing the need to “prevent any damage from flooding and reduce mortality.” Sure enough, three weeks after transplanting the eggs, the Rapti River flooded; the average hatching time for the species is about seven weeks.

The study highlights that while the narrow-headed softshell turtle is among several endangered species, it is not on the government’s highly protected wildlife list. Although the government has established a turtle breeding center in Chitwan National Park and allowed an NGO to rescue and protect turtles in eastern Nepal, special conservation measures are still not a priority, the study says.

Bhattarai and his team called on the government to establish turtle zones within their habitat, such as the section of the Rapti River that runs through Chitwan National Park, and to ban the extraction of resources such as gravel and sand in such areas. as well as limit activities such as bathing, washing clothes, and fishing.

The 496 tortoise eggs recovered by the team at the Chitwan gharial breeding center hatched after an average of 54 days. They produced 375 cubs, all of which were later released in Rapti.

Indian narrow-necked turtles
Indian narrow-necked turtle hatchlings after release into their natural habitat. Photo courtesy of Bed Khadka.

“Luckily for them, we found them and hatched them at the breeding center,” Bhattarai said. “However, many other eggs laid during the monsoon… can be carried away by the river. We really need a separate program to save these turtles. It won’t cost much; All we need is the will to do it.”

Banner Image: Indian long-headed tortoise hatchlings at the Gharial Breeding Center in Chitwan. Photo courtesy of Bed Khadka.

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Quotes:

Khadka, B.B., Lamichhane, S., & Bhattarai, S. (2022). Notes on successful nest transfer Chitra indicator (Gray, 1831) from Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Tropical natural history, 22(1), 51-55. Retrieved from https://li01.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/tnh/article/download/255984/174837

Aryal, PC, Dhamala, MK, Bhurtel, BP, Suwal, NK, and Rijal, B. (2010). Turtles of Nepal: A Field Guide to Species Accounts and Distribution. Kathmandu, Nepal: Environmental Graduates in the Himalayas (EGH) and Companions for Amphibians and Reptiles of Nepal (CARON).

Biodiversity, Captive breeding, Conservation, Endangered, freshwater turtles, Habitat, Habitat degradation, Habitat loss, Herps, Protected areas, Rivers, Turtles, Turtles and Tortoises

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