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India 2012 Part 2 - An article written by both Shashwat and I for the T.S.A. newsletter

India 2012 Part 2 - An article written by both Shashwat and I for the T.S.A. newsletter

This article written by me & Shashwat for T.S.A. newsletter

Having assisted and being involved in the conservation activities of Tortoise Welfare UK and the British Chelonia Group, it was but natural for me to come into contact with Turtle Survival Alliance-an organisation engaged across the globe in securing endangered chelonian populations. As I knew I was heading to India and Indonesia towards volunteering in field conservation projects, I asked about projects in India and was directed to contact Shashwat Sirsi, the Senior Project Officer in Southern India. I was then invited to join him in the town of Dandeli, in north western Karnataka. My journey from Goa to Dandeli involved multiple bus changes, along the circuitous roads of the Western Ghats and the verdant scenery from my window-seat was the only consolation to my travel sick self. Nagging doubts regarding the survey objective also began to assert themselves, for I had been told that these surveys were a joint initiative of the Turtle Survival Alliance and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. A mention of the latter entity had me unsure as to whether we would be surveying for crocodiles, which scared more than interested me.

When I met Shashwat on the 13th of May, I was so glad to dispel those doubts and find the survey was to locate populations of the endangered and endemic Leith’s softshell turtle (Nilssonia leithii)- also Shashwat explained to me that the joint initiative of T.S.A and M.C.B.T, which I was assisting in, was the India Turtle Conservation Program. The next few days were spent laying the all-important groundwork of our surveys through meetings at the Wildlife and Territorial Divisions of the Karnataka State Forest Department as well as meeting resort owners and naturalists in the area. This proved useful in choosing likely sites to survey and local fishermen that could be contacted to assist in sampling. I must add that, as an Englishman, I was something of a curiosity in the small town of Dandeli- which had its pros and its cons. For instance, Shashwat mentioned that there were several occasions when the people we met were far more receptive to our cause than if he visited alone, while similarly he also insisted that he almost always paid double for the rickshaw owing to my presence!

It is necessary to mention, Mr Mahendra Kumar, a wildlife resort owner, whom we met at the onset of our visit, was especially kind and supportive to us by lending us a motorbike to get about and introducing us to local fishermen. Dr R.N. Talekar, the Assistant Director of Fisheries at Haliyal, was also extremely helpful towards the objective of our surveys and provided us a list of fishing villages and directed us to the Fishermen’s Co-operative at Joida. Near Joida, at a makeshift thatch and bamboo structure which functioned as a tea-stall and doubled up as a general store we met Santosh the fisherman. He was superbly helpful and tied a seine net in the backwaters of the Kali River. The news of the first attempt at catching a turtle was negative. Santosh re-cast the net and the next report was that we had one! We travelled there post haste and I witnessed a beautiful creature to behold. We weighed, measured and implanted a Decimal Coded Wire tag, and let him go back in the reservoir.
I feel privileged to have been part of this two week long survey and am keen to spread the word about these superb reptiles. I have now moved onto Indonesia and the focus as always is chelonia. I also heard recently from Shashwat that they captured another three of these magnificent animals from the site and I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy that I am not there to witness it!! Returning to help T.S.A. India in the future is a must!

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