- Conservation biologist Ayushi Jain managed to sight the rare reptile, Cantor’s Giant Soft Shell Turtle and is working with riverside communities to create awareness about it.
- According to her, freshwater turtles in India don’t get their due. So many researchers work on just four species of sea turtles but It’s the stark opposite for freshwater turtles. Only a handful of people work on 24 species.
- Instead of working on freshwater turtles in general, as those few researchers do, conservation biologist Jain focused her energies on a little-known secretive species, the Cantor’s or Asian giant softshell turtle.
- As its name implies, the olive-brown turtle grows up to one metre in length, almost as wide, and ranks as the second largest freshwater turtle in India. Despite its size, it’s rarely seen.
About Asian giant softshell turtle
- Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) also known commonly as the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle and the frog-faced softshell turtle is a species of freshwater turtle in the family Trionychidae.
- The turtle gets its name from Theodore Cantor, a Danish zoologist who worked for the British East India Company in the mid-19th century, collecting and describing many reptiles.
- Cantor’s giant softshell is found across Southeast Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.
- The species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, however, this assessment is long out-of-date and in urgent need of updating.
- It is listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act and designated on CITES Appendix II.
- The turtle can grow up to a meter in length and weigh 100 kg.
- It is one of the few freshwater species which is at home in saline waters too.
- The turtle inhabits inland rivers and is thought to keep to deep depths. It spends most of its time in the water.
- The turtle spends 95% of its life buried and motionless, with only its eyes and mouth protruding from the sand.
- The turtle nests between December-February.
- Though the species were spotted in several parts of Kerala, it was always seen alone, not as a breeding population.
- It is an ambush predator and primarily carnivorous, feeding on crustaceans, mollusks, and fish (although some aquatic plants may also be eaten).
- It is also known to scavenge dead fish, becoming a natural agent in cleaning up rivers.
Connection with Krefft’s river turtle
- During the day, turtles sit pretty on logs and rocks along riverbanks and islands. But not the giant softshell.
- Not one has ever been seen soaking up the sun, leading Jain to suspect that it might bask at night like the Krefft’s river turtle of Australia, which probably removes itself after dark from the path of freshwater crocodiles cruising the rivers.
- The giant softshell’s supreme reluctance to show itself makes the standard survey techniques unviable.
- Its deceptively small but uniquely shaped nose, which resembles the muzzle of a tiny double-barrelled shotgun, broke the water surface to get a breath of air just twice throughout the day.
- To map where the species lives would need several lifetimes or lots of pairs of eyes.
Fisherfolk call it ‘pala poovan’
- Many Southeast Asians refer to it as the frog-faced softshell turtle, but the fisherfolk of Chandragiri choose to see beauty, calling it pala poovan since its nose and white bony belly plate resemble the shape and colour of the pala flower, a type of crape jasmine.
- Instead of swimming away with the current as other turtles would when released, these immediately buried themselves entirely in the riverbed’s sand, leaving only their noses sticking out.
- They spent most of their time stock-still in this ambush position, and when fish or shrimp swam past, their heads shot lightning fast to snap up the prey.
- They frequently swim out into the sea where some have become tangled in shore seine nets. An adult female, about 40 cm long, was snagged 3 km from the coast.
Presence with Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
- In Orissa, researchers recorded these giant freshwater turtles nesting alongside olive ridley sea turtles on sandy beaches. However, no scientist from other parts of the range has described this behaviour.
- Either these animals don’t nest on the seaside elsewhere or this tendency has escaped people’s attention.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
- Scientific name: Lepidochelys olivacea; also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle.
- Conservation Status
- IUCN Red List: Vulnerable
- Schedule I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
- CITES Appendix I
- The KURMA App has a built-in digital field guide covering 29 species of freshwater turtles and tortoise of India, and information on turtle identification, distribution, vernacular names, and threats.
- It is developed by the Indian Turtle Conservation Action Network (ITCAN) in collaboration with the Turtle Survival Alliance-India and Wildlife Conservation Society-India. It provides users a database to identify a species.
With reference to Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, consider the following statements:
- It is a freshwater species.
- Its habitat ranges from Malaysia to India.
- It is listed as vulnerable in the IUCN red list of species.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
[A] 1 and 2 only
[B] 2 and 3 only
[C] 1 and 3 only
[D] 1, 2 and 3