Indian temple helps nurture ‘extinct’ turtle back to life

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The northeastern state of Assam was once rich in freshwater turtles, but habitat loss and over-exploitation — they were once an abundant and popular local food — has massively depleted their populations. (AFP)
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The black softshell turtle is officially extinct in the wild but a centuries-old temple in India, the adjoining pond and its nature-loving caretaker are helping it make a tentative comeback. (AFP)
Updated 11 June 2019
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Indian temple helps nurture ‘extinct’ turtle back to life

  • The northeastern state of Assam was once rich in freshwater turtles, but habitat loss and over-exploitation depleted their population
  • The black softshell turtle was declared extinct in the wild in 2002

HAJO, India: The black softshell turtle is officially extinct in the wild, but a centuries-old Indian temple and its nature-loving caretaker are helping the creature make a tentative comeback.
The northeastern state of Assam was once rich in freshwater turtles, but habitat loss and over-exploitation — they were once a popular local food — have massively depleted their population.
The black softshell turtle was declared extinct in the wild in 2002 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while the Indian softshell turtle and the Indian peacock softshell turtle are classified as vulnerable.
But all the while, the pond of the Hayagriva Madhav temple in the Hajjo pilgrimage center has provided a safe haven, thanks to the sacred status of turtles protecting them from harm.
“There are plenty of turtles in the temple pond,” said Jayaditya Purkayastha, from conservation group Good Earth.
The group has teamed up with the temple authorities in a breeding program.
“The population of the turtle in Assam has gone down by a great extent. So we thought we needed to intervene and do something to save the species from extinction,” he told AFP.
In January his organization’s first batch of 35 turtle hatchlings, including 16 black softshells hand-reared at the temple, was released into a nearby wildlife sanctuary.
A key figure is the caretaker of the temple pond, Pranab Malakar, who long before environmentalists became involved took a keen interest in the turtles’ wellbeing.
“I used to take care of them as I like them. Later, after I became associated with Good Earth, it became my responsibility,” he said.
“No one harms them here as they are incarnations of Lord Vishnu (a Hindu deity). I was born and grew up here. We have been seeing the turtles since our childhood. People respect them,” he said.
Malakar collects eggs laid by the turtles on the sandy banks of the pond — a new concrete bank had to be demolished a few years ago — and gingerly puts them into an incubator.
The project has been so successful that Good Earth has identified 18 other temple ponds in the area which could also be used for similar initiatives.
But it is not without its challenges.
For one thing, some of the hundreds of daily visitors to the temple outside Guwahati throw bread and other food to the turtles — which they clearly like.
“This has triggered some biological changes among the turtles in the pond. They have also lost their natural tendency of hunting for food,” Purkayastha said.


US officials seize Egyptian mummy linens coming from Canada

Updated 26 June 2019
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US officials seize Egyptian mummy linens coming from Canada

PORT HURON, Michigan, US: US border officials say they have seized ancient Egyptian mummy linens during enforcement operations at the Blue Water Bridge that connects Michigan with the Canadian province of Ontario.
The US Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday officers seized a package of five jars containing the artifacts found May 25 on a Canadian mail truck. The truck had been selected for examination at a nearby station in Marysville, Michigan.
Officials say they worked with a Washington-based archaeological organization and determined the artifacts are believed to be from the Ptolemaic Dynasty from 305-30 B.C. Their removal from Egypt appears to be a violation of federal law.
Authorities say they plan to return the artifacts in the near future and are working to determine who is criminally responsible.