‘This pilot release is a major leap towards repopulating the species’
NAGALAND, Dec 19: Nagaland Forest Department (NFD),Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Wildlife Conservation Society India (WCSI) on Monday announced the rewilding of ten captive-bred juveniles of Asian Giant Tortoise (Manouriaemysphayrei) into a protected forest of Nagaland namely Intanki National Park in Northeast India. This first monitored rewilding of the critically endangered tortoise in India comes after over five years of conservation breeding efforts at Nagaland Zoological Park, Dimapur.
Earlier in December last year, ten captive-bred individuals were released in the Matamuhuri valley, Chattogram Hill Tracts of Bangladesh by the TSA and Creative Conservation Alliance. Together the two release events by the partner organisations in India and Bangladesh, will produce the necessary scientific information for developing the long-term monitoring and eventual release strategy for species supplementation throughout their historic range in South and Southeast Asia.
A long history of over-exploitation and a general lack of awareness leading to unsustainable use for consumption by local communities have brought the species to the brink of functional extinction warranted rigorous conservation interventions.
“Nagaland Forest Department with the help of stakeholders and partner organisations is committed in long-term program to restore an ecologically viable population of Asian Giant Tortoise in the State,” said Vedpal Singh, chief wildlife warden, Nagaland.
“This pilot release is a major leap towards repopulating the species”.
“Having developed successful conservation breeding programs across species’ native ranges in India and Bangladesh, with regional partners, the release of these ten tortoises is a large step into the population replenishment phase,” said Dr. Shailendra Singh, principle investigator of joint Asian Giant Tortoise Recovery Project.
Eyeing a fleeting hope to replenish the wild populations via a regional conservation breeding program with the zoos across Northeast India, some head-ways toward expanding the same were made by Nagaland Zoological Park under a joint program started with TSA in 2017 under a institutional cooperation.
“Today, Nagaland Zoological Park has the highest number of Asian Giant Tortoise population in India holding over 110 successful hatchlings and juveniles with 13 founder adults,” said Dr. C. Zupeni Tsanglai, director, NZP.
“Currently in the first phase, animals will be soft-released or moved to a large natural enclosure with native habitat for acclimation throughout the winters and allowed to disperse into the forests at the onset of monsoon followed by active tracking by a joint project team,” said T. Aochuba, director Intanki National Park. Soft release is described as gradual return of captive raised individuals to the wild. The goal is to generate site fidelityin the released individuals whereby they develop a tendency to remain in the vicinity of the soft release enclosure.
“These ten juveniles were born in 2018, the first batch of the conservation breeding program initiated with NZP, and have an average weight of 2.4 kg. The cohort underwent a thorough health examination by a panel of wildlife veterinarians, prior to their release”, informed Sushmita Kar, Asian Giant Tortoise project researcher.
Conservation breeding and release team members included Dr. Shailendra Singh, Dr. C. Zupeni Tsanglai, Sushmita Kar, Watisungla Amer, Sreeparna Dutta, Dr. Parimal Ray and field assistants Ika Chishi, Bhushan Lam and Lalit Mohan Budhani.