An unknown sickness ravages the population of these critically endangered turtles in a local temple pond

25 & 26 October 2022

Between 25 and 26 October 2022, our team members in Cooch Behar, Ardhendhu Banik, Rupjyoti Kar & Mrinmay Sarkar along with other conservation organizations, rescued three sick Black Softshell Turtles from a temple pond in Baneshwar, Cooch Behar. The turtles were sent to the Forest Department’s rehabilitation center where one of them soon died. The rest are currently under treatment.

Ardhendu Banik and Rupjyoti Kar rescuing a Black Softshell Turtle

In 2002, Black softshell turtles (Nilssonia nigricans) were declared extinct in the wild by the IUCN. Rediscovery of some populations in a few temple ponds of Assam and Tripura two years later were followed by conservation efforts to revive its numbers. After a reassessment the IUCN declared it as critically endangered in 2018. In addition to these two states a few populations were later discovered in West Bengal too.

‘Shib Dighi’ or the pond adjacent to a local Shiv temple in Baneshwar is one of the last strongholds of the critically endangered Black Softshell Turtles in West Bengal. This pond was hence declared as a heritage site by the state’s Biodiversity Board.

In the past few weeks, many individuals of Black Softshell Turtles have reportedly died in Baneshwar’s Shib Dighi which has led concerned locals to complain to the temple administration but to no avail. Therefore, when the three turtles were spotted floating abnormally on the surface, our team was promptly informed.

The pond’s deteriorating condition has been a cause of growing concern among the locals and we too are quite apprehensive about this turtle population’s health. To help the population recover, we have collected samples of the pond water and the soil bed. The results of the investigation will help guide our intervention strategy for eradicating threats to this species’ population in Baneshwar.