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Regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 July 2024

Slow but steady, friends win turtle race in Calcutta

City group convinces residents not to kill animal for meat

Nadia Imam And Debraj Mitra Calcutta Published 22.08.19, 08:27 PM
The turtle captured on Arghya Adhikary’s lens, minutes after it crawled out of a muddy ditch in the fields onto the road. For a better part of the tussle between the two parties, the animal had retracted its head into the shell, a sign of fear

The turtle captured on Arghya Adhikary’s lens, minutes after it crawled out of a muddy ditch in the fields onto the road. For a better part of the tussle between the two parties, the animal had retracted its head into the shell, a sign of fear Arghya Adhikary

A group of friends from the city were locked in a four-hour tussle with 30-odd villagers in West Midnapore last Saturday over a turtle, roughly the size of a dinner plate.

Arghya Adhikary, 37, and his friends wanted to rescue the turtle that had stumbled in front of their car while the villagers wanted to kill the animal for its meat.

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The friends managed to prevail upon the local residents, who finally agreed to hand over the turtle to a team of foresters.

A senior forest official in Calcutta described the incident as an “example of people’s participation in conservation”.

Adhikary, an engineer and a wildlife photography enthusiast, and his friends were driving back to the city on Saturday afternoon after visiting a friend in Bhairabpur. A little before noon, they were forced to stop the car as a turtle — later identified by forest officials as an Indian flap-shell — emerged on the main road from a “flooded paddy field”.

“The flap-shell commonly resides in shallow water bodies with muddy bases. A rise in the water level during the monsoon often leads to turtles wandering onto dry land,” a forest official said.

Adhikary was “elated” to spot the turtle and immediately took out his camera to click pictures. “As I was taking pictures of the turtle, scores of villagers gathered. They were excited by the animal’s sudden arrival because they saw it as meat,” Adhikary told Metro.

Trading in and killing of turtles is banned but turtle meat, considered a delicacy by many, continues to be sold in markets across the state, especially in North and South 24-Parganas and Howrah.

The group from Calcutta was, however, determined to save the animal from being butchered.

Adhikary called up a friend, who lives nearby, and he arrived soon with a few others. Together, they tried to convince the villagers to spare the turtle.

“We told them how important the animal was to the ecosystem of the village. The reason they do not face diseases such as dengue that is caused by stagnant fresh water is because animals like turtles eat the mosquito larvae,” Adhikary said.

It was, however, a more practical concern that brought about a change in the crowd.

“I told them the amount of meat would not be enough to feed all of them. That seemed to have done the trick,” said Adhikary, who had by then got in touch with a friend in the city who is associated with an animal welfare organisation.

The local forest office was alerted and the additional divisional forest official of Midnapore, Purabi Mahato, requested Adhikary to remain at the spot till forest officials reached.

A rescue team arrived around 5.30pm and retrieved the animal. “The turtle had retracted its head into its shell because it was scared,” said a local forest official. It was taken to a local rescue centre.

Last May, an 11-year-old boy who found a turtle on sale at a market near Howrah’s Sankrail had convinced his father to buy the animal before handing it over to the forest department. “The fact that a turtle was saved in an area infamous for hunting such animals for meat conveys a good conservation message. What is more encouraging is that the initiative was taken by people who are not actively involved in conservation,” said Suvrajyoti Chatterjee, the secretary of the Human and Environment Alliance League, who was contacted by Adhikary.

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