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The terrapin races against extinction in the wild

Conservation moves in Bengal, U.P., M.P. and Assam seek to save the most-threatened freshwater species

A small group of one of India’s most-threatened turtles, the northern river terrapin, is finding refuge in four breeding ponds in the Sundarbans in West Bengal, under an ambitious plan to repopulate the species in the wild.

The terrapin is one of five freshwater turtles among the world’s 50 most-threatened turtles. Their fragile state is documented in Turtles in Trouble, published for 2018 by the Turtle Conservation Coalition, a consortium of conservation organisations.

India’s “top five” at risk include Batagur baska, the northern river terrapin found in the Sundarbans, and the red-crowned roof turtle, Batagur kachuga, from the National Chambal Sanctuary, spread across Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Others are Chitra indica, the South Asian narrow-headed softshell turtle in the gangetic river system, Nilssonia nigricans, or black softshell turtle, encountered in temple ponds in north Bengal and Assam, and Pelochelys cantorii, the Asian giant softshell turtle in the east. The northern river terrapin, the red-crowned roof turtle and giant softshell turtle are critically endangered, says the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while the black softshell is extinct in the wild, and the narrow-headed softshell is endangered.

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Shailendra Singh, Director of Turtle Survival Alliance – India (TSA) said most threatened freshwater turtles are from Asia: Of the top 25, 17 are from Asia. The figure goes up to 29 among the 50 most threatened.

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