Andhra Forest Department has its hands full with turtle conservation
By G. Venkatarmana Rao
The conservation of turtles has become a difficult task for the Wildlife Division of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department.
The huge deltas of Krishna and Godavari rivers are very popular with freshwater turtle poachers. The turtles which are easy to catch and much easier to transport alive are taken from here in vehicles to different ports on the Eastern Coast and smuggled out of the country to South East Asian countries where turtle meat in consumed as a delicacy by the locals and also by tourists interested in trying out exotic food.
The Indian Soft Shelled Turtle (Lissemys punctata) found in the fresh water is common and does not figure in the list of endangered animals. But, it however, figures in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 along with the Clouded Leopard, Musk Deer and several rare turtles and terrapins. Hundreds of these turtles are smuggled out from the country in the season.
The Forest Department has little or no means to check the smuggling. The smuggling of turtles mostly comes to light when the vehicle they are being transported in has an accident. Nearly thousand Soft-Shelled Turtles were found when a van carrying them overturned near Rajahmundry last May. Over 400 turtles were found in bags hidden behind crates of fish in a truck that overturned near Anakapalli on Thursday.
The Rajahmundry Wildlife Circle that conserves wildlife in four districts – Krishna, Guntur, East and West Godavari districts has become very busy in conserving yet another highly endangered animal, the Olive Ridley sea turtle. The numbers of adult sea turtles coming to lay eggs on the sandy beaches of the four districts is growing. The officials think that Andhra Pradesh would soon become a bigger Olive Ridley hatchery than Odisha. Conservator of Forests A.K. Sinha in a report said that nearly 1.2 lakh hatchlings were released into the sea in the recent season that ended in May from hatcheries in Elichetladibba, Lankavanidibba, Sorlagandi and Sangameswaram in Krishna district and Sacremento Island, Hope Island, and Yellaiahpeta in East Godavari district.
The Olive Ridley’s return to the very same beach they were hatched, to lay their eggs. The Department hired 44 watchmen to protect the 1.4 lakh eggs laid at the seven locations.