May 21, 2020
Two months back i.e. in March I was in West Kushaha, a buffer zone of Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, for research on turtle species and their exploitation. One evening at 7 pm, as soon as I arrived homestay from the field, I was informed that a villager kept a turtle in his house that was found in a fish pond that very day. I rushed immediately towards his house which was 400m away from the homestay. There I saw a cute little turtle kept in a bucket with half-filled water. Turtle’s median keel was high and the 3rd vertebral keel projected sharply. The carapace was brownish olive with a mid-dorsal stripe of pale orange on the vertebral. So, I easily identified it as Pangshura tentoria flaviventer, which is also commonly known as Yellow-bellied-Roofed Turtle. It was a juvenile with 5.8 cm straight carapace length. The species is listed under Appendix II in CITES. Contrary, it is kind of common to keep turtles as pets. During my survey in the fish markets, I had found this species kept for sale.
Two kids of the house around 10 years were also very excited and interested in keeping the turtle as a pet. They were inquiring about their feeding behavior. I told them that the juveniles are omnivorous while the adults prefer plant materials. Plus, it is a riverine species and we cannot exactly meet their needs in artificial habitat. So, they might die prematurely if they are kept as pets so it is better to release it in its natural habitat.
When I told them, it is illegal to keep turtles as pet animals, the kids were very surprised to hear that. Well, I was able to convince them to release the turtle in its natural habitat the next day. With a happy heart, I returned back to the homestay.
The next morning, when I went there, the kids were getting ready for school. With permission, I took the turtle to a nearby seepage and left it on the bank for taking some good pictures before releasing. But it remained still for a long time as it was too scared/shy to take its head out of the shell. It would slowly take only a little portion of the head out of the shell and then again withdraw inside on sensing some disturbance. I waited patiently for almost half an hour without any movement keeping the lens focused on this beautiful turtle. Finally, it took out its head from the shell and started moving towards the seepage. This was the moment I was waiting for, so I took as many pictures as I could and watched it going to the wetland. It started swimming happily after a few moments of release. I watched the turtle swim in the water until it hid inside aquatic vegetation. It felt really very satisfying.
While I was feeling sad thinking someday people might find the turtle again, and I might not be there to rescue it, my heart was filled with pride and happiness for being able to rescue and release the turtle in its habitat. We all must do our part to help wildlife whenever we can, and I did what I could for this turtle.
Ashmita Shrestha is an Executive member of GYBN-Nepal and Research Associate at Greenhood Nepal. This anecdote was based on her research field story.
Originally published in GYBN website.