| A turtle at the temple pond in Hajo. Telegraph picture |
Guwahati, Aug. 1: “Temple turtles” are dying at one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Assam, but experts are not sure why.
The Kamrup district administration today sent a team of experts to the Haigrib Madhab Mandir in Hajo after several turtles died over the past few days. A 40-kg Indian soft-shell turtle died this morning.
The exact number of deaths is yet to be ascertained, but an official said about 12 turtles had died in the past week.
“The dead turtles have been sent to the College of Veterinary Sciences for pathological examination,” the divisional forest officer of Assam zoo, Narayan Mahanta, who is also a member of the expert team, said.
The team collected water samples and inspected the pond for clues to the deaths.
“Anything from pollution to infection to over-crowding could have caused the deaths,” another member of the team said.
The exact number of turtles residing in the 468-foot-long, 252-foot-wide and 40-foot- deep pond is not known, but they are estimated to be over a thousand.
The temple was constructed by Koch king Raghu Deva Narayan in 1583. Temple authorities said in the early days, pilgrims from Assam used to bring turtles as gifts because the amphibians live for over 100 years.
Last month, Abhijit Das of the NGO Aaranyak had conducted a rapid assessment at the temple on the forest department’s request. He suggested an analysis of the water quality and ban on polythene packets.
Quoting locals and temple authorities, he said turtles have been regularly dying in the pond for the past three years.