Freshwater Turtles

Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Environment & Biodiversity | Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia
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Why in News?

  • Recently the West Bengal Police seized about 270 kg of Turtle calipee (a gelatinous layer found in the lower shells of turtles, believed to be used in traditional Chinese medicine) in Malda district. 

 Freshwater Turtles in India:

  • India is home to about 29 species of freshwater Turtles (24) and Tortoises (5). 
  • The key difference between Turtles and Tortoises is that Turtles are mainly aquatic whereas Tortoises are terrestrial and spend more time on land.
  • Out of these, over 50% of the Turtle species are threatened and 11 are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, enjoying the same level of protection as Tigers.
  • Turtles and Tortoises are slow-moving, tough animals, which have adapted to various evolutionary processes and have survived cycles of mass extinctions. However, they are currently facing difficulties due to illegal trade.
  • These animals are smuggled mainly for three reasons namely their meat (mainly within the country), as pets (within and outside India) and to extract their calipee.
  • Species such as the Indian Roofed Turtle, Black-Spotted Turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii), Red-Crowned Roofed Turtle and the Indian star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans) are in huge demand in both the national and international illegal pet trade.
  • Species such as the Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata), the Indian softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica), other species of the genus Nilssonia and the Indian narrow-headed softshell Turtle (Chitra indica) are in demand for their meat.
  • The Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga), found only within the National Chambal Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary (NCGWS) spread across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh has made it to the list of the 25 most threatened freshwater Turtles in the world, along with Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) which is now found only in the Sundarbans.
  • The Conference of the Parties (COP) recently accepted India’s proposal to transfer two species of freshwater Turtles found in the country namely the Red-crowned Roofed Turtle and the Leith’s Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii) to Appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES), which lists the most endangered species that need the highest level of protection.
  • The Indian star tortoise was transferred to Appendix I of CITES in 2017.
  • About four Turtle species of the genus of Nilssonia and N. leithii are endemic to India.
  • The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) which is a statutory body tasked with preventing wildlife trafficking in the country, carried out a national level crackdown on turtle smuggling.
  • WCCB launched “Operation Save Kurma” to prevent poaching, transportation and illegal trade of live turtles and tortoises. 
  • WCCB had also launched “Operation Turtshield-I” and “Operation Turtshield-II” to tackle the illegal trade of live turtles.
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