The Hill Turtle that Lost Its Way

Published: 21st September 2015 07:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st September 2015 07:08 AM   |  A+A-

the Hill

Earlier in the week I was on a phone call when the doorbell rang. Being pre occupied I forgot all about the bell, and after finishing my phone call I stepped out into the balcony. This is where I house my aquarium; and no, before you ask, this is not an aquarium for fish but one that I use to rear moths and butterflies! Peeking over the balcony, I saw a teenage girl sitting on the ground in front of my gate, and a boy standing by her side. “Hello down there,” I hollered.

Nature.jpgI realised now that they had rung the bell a while ago and I had forgotten about it. Walking downstairs I met Anushka and Simeon, impressed that they had patiently waited for me. Anushka, still in her school uniform, clutched a cute turtle no more than 200 mm in length.

“What’s up?” I asked. Anushka said that they had found the turtle crossing the Dhoran road in front of our society and, fearing that it might be run over, had picked it up.

“Which turtle is it?” Anushka asked. I went indoors, brought out the book titled Amphibians and Reptiles of Uttarakhand that I had co-authored a few years ago and handed it over to them. Turtles are reptiles, just in case you did not know. We looked at the book together and provisionally identified the turtle as the Tricarinate hill turtle (Melanochelys tricarinata). This turtle was paler than most other Tricarinate hill turtles that I had seen, which are normally black, with a typical pattern of three pale stripes on the carapace. On this turtle, the three stripes were clearly visible.

The turtle was not injured, and when we put it down, it attempted to scramble under the car. “What should we do about it?” asked Anushka. “Release it back into the wild,” I replied. The area close to where Anushka and Simeon had found the turtle had a reasonably nice forest patch and a nullah in which water occasionally flowed.

This turtle lives in hill forests and is quite common in Dehradun. I suggested to them that they release the turtle in this forest patch.

Most species have a home range. Research has shown that rescuing and releasing species close to their home range gives them a better chance of survival. It has been studied that many rescued snakes that are caught near homes and released in far away forests, don’t survive. The reasons for this could be many – stress on the animal, entry into an unfamiliar habitat, inappropriate habitat and presence of an already existing animal of the same species occupying this space.

A few days later I dropped by Anushka’s house to check whether the turtle had been released into the wild. Anushka was not at home but her mother informed me, to my dismay, that the turtle had still not been released. I realised that Anushka was not quite certain about the turtle release, so I offered to assist her in it.

A day later when I went over to their home, Anushka’s mother told me that the turtle had disappeared from their garden!

Had the turtle found a way to escape back into the wild? Or had a bird of prey picked it up from the garden? Even if it had escaped would it survive so far away from its home range? We will never know, but I was left with a sense of regret about having delayed the action of releasing the turtle back into the wild near its home range.

(Feedback on this column is welcome at sanjay.sondhi1@gmail.com)

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