Freshwater Turtles

Freshwater Turtles

Freshwater Turtles

#GS-03 Biodiversity Conservation

For Prelims

Turtle vs Tortoise:

  • All tortoises are turtles—that is, they belong to the order Testudines or Chelonia, reptiles having bodies encased in a bony shell—but not all turtles are tortoises.
  • The most important thing to remember about tortoises is that they are exclusively land creatures.
  • Tortoises are generally vegetarians, while other turtles are omnivorous.

Fresh water Turtles in India:

  • India has 29 species of freshwater turtles (24) and tortoises (5).
Red-Crowned Roofed Turtle:
  • Scientific Name: Batagur kachuga
  • Also known as Bengal roof turtle.
  • Found in: Nepal, northeastern India, Bangladesh and parts of Myanmar.
  • IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
  • CITES: Appendix I
Leith’s Softshell Turtle:
  • Scientific Name: Nilssonia leithii
  • Found in: Peninsular Indian rivers such as the Bhavani, Godavari, and Moyariii Rivers.
  • IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
  • CITES: Appendix I


For Mains:

The Concern:

  • More than half of the turtle species are threatened and 11 are protected under Schedule I of The Wildlife Protection Act.
  • West Bengal Police seized 270 kg of turtle calipee which is a gelatinous layer found in the lower shells of turtles, believed to be used in traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Uttar Pradesh Forest Department officials recovered a total of 789 Indian flapshell turtles and softshell turtles.
  • 143 live turtles, meant to be smuggled to Bangladesh, was recovered by the Border Security Force (BSF) in West Bengal.
  • Experts say the consignments intercepted by law enforcement agencies may be just a fraction of the actual volume of illegal trade.
  • Turtles are smuggled primarily for three reasons — for their meat (mainly within the country), as pets (within and outside India) and to extract their calipee.
  • The demand for freshwater turtles and their body parts sees a spike every year during winter when it is easier to transport animals for extended periods.

What has been done:

  • The Conference of the Parties (COP) adopted India’s proposal to transfer the Red-Crowned Roofed Turtle and Leith’s Softshell Turtle to Appendix I of CITES.
  • The change in the status of the red-crowned roofed turtle would help save their population in the Chambal region.
  • Operation TurtshieldI’ (December 2019 to January 2020) and ‘Operation TurtshieldII’ (December 2020 to February 2021) were taken up to tackle the illegal trade of live turtles.
Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles Under Siege
  • It is a 2019 study by TRAFFIC India to help non-experts comprehend the magnitude of the illegal trade in a decade.
  • According to the study, at least 1,11,310 tortoises and freshwater turtles were trafficked from September 2009 to September 2019.

Source “The battle to bring freshwater turtles back from the brink