SHIMLA - A search is on at a Himachal Pradesh sanctuary for a species of turtle not earlier known to be found in the state after scientists here made a chance discovery of its carcass.
The scientists of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) have come across a carcass of the eastern black turtle (Melanochelys trijuga) in the Simbalwara Wildlife Sanctuary in Sirmaur district. Since then, they have been on the
job to know whether the sanctuary is home to this species or not.
Spread over 19 sq km, the Simbalwara sanctuary lies close to Haryana’s Kalesar National Park.
‘It was a chance discovery. We (the scientists) were studying the fauna of the Simbalwara sanctuary in 2005 when we found a carcass of the eastern black turtle lying near the pond,’ ZSI scientist H.S. Mehta told IANS.
‘Since then, we have been regularly visiting the sanctuary to ascertain the presence of this species there. If we succeed in spotting some more eastern black turtles in the sanctuary area, then this species will be the new distribution record in the hill state,’ he said.
The hill state supports 53 species of reptilian fauna, including three turtle species - Lissemys punctata, Pangshura smithii and Kachuga kachuga.
‘The physical examination of the carcass showed that the reptile might have been crushed to death by a vehicle,’ Mehta said.
‘Although its carapace was badly damaged, plastron was intact and showing distinctive dark brown colouration of the species. From the plastron colour pattern, it (the reptile) seemed to be a large male eastern black turtle,’
The turtle carcass was photographed and left at that spot.
‘Employees of the sanctuary told us (the scientists) that eastern black turtles are common species in the sanctuary area and they can be easily spotted during the monsoon, but we have not spotted them so far during that period too,’ another scientist Uttam Saikia said.
‘Since the eastern black turtle has not been recorded in this area earlier, there is a need to study its habitat exhaustively,’ he said.
In India, 35 species and subspecies of turtles have been recorded. The turtles are aquatic scavengers and help in cleaning water bodies.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has categorised the eastern black turtle as lower risk/near threatened in India, but in Bangladesh it has been declared endangered.
The Simbalwara Wildlife Sanctuary lies in the Shivaliks.
Running from northwest to southeast along the Himachal Pradesh border, the Shivaliks spread over Sirmaur, Solan, Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur and some parts of Kangra and Chamba districts of Himachal Pradesh.
According to a report prepared by the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology, ‘Biodiversity in the Shivalik Ecosystem’, the Shivaliks are probably one of the finest wildlife sites in India. Thirty-two percent of the country’s bird species and five percent of the mammals have been reported in the Shivalik range.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)