Reviving extinct turtles in the wild

The population of Bostami soft-shell turtle grows steadily at Hayagriva Madhav temple and is introduced back to its natural environment.

Picture 1 of Reviving extinct turtles in the wild

Picture 1 of Reviving extinct turtles in the wild

Bostami turtles are raised at the temple Hayagriva Madhav.(Photo: AFP).

Bostami tortoises, wildly declared extinct since 2002, are gradually revitalized by breeding programs at a temple in Assam state, northeastern India. This soft-shell turtle has been widely distributed throughout Assam, however, overfishing of food and habitat loss has pushed the species to the brink of extinction.

Hayagriva Madhav Temple , located in the center of Hajo pilgrimage, for centuries has provided a safe haven for Bostami turtles. Thanks to the sacredness of the temple, the turtles here are not caught. They are also specially cared for and protected by members of the Good Earth conservation organization.

"There's a lot of turtles in the temple pond," said Jayaditya Purkayastha from Good Earth conservation group. "The number of Bostami turtles in Assam has declined dramatically over the years. We feel the need to intervene and do something to save the species from extinction."

Picture 2 of Reviving extinct turtles in the wild

Picture 2 of Reviving extinct turtles in the wild

The temple pond of Hayagriva Madhav is a safe haven for Bostami turtles.(Photo: AFP).

Good Earth has partnered with the Hayagriva Madhav temple administrators to develop breeding programs. The first batch of 35 turtles, 16 of which were hatched and raised at the temple, were released back to the wild at a nearby wildlife sanctuary.

"I used to take care of them because of my hobby. But now, it has become my responsibility," said Pranab Malakar, a caretaker of the temple at Hayagriva Madhav. "I was born and raised here. We have seen turtles since childhood. Everyone respects them."

After initial successes, Good Earth decided to expand its breeding program. They have found 18 other temple ponds in the proper area to feed Bostami turtles and plan to bring lots of baby turtles there in the near future.

However, breeding programs at temple ponds also face challenges. Many visitors visiting the temple often throw bread and food into the lake. This may cause some biological changes or loss of natural hunting ability of Bostami turtles.