In a novel conservation exercise in India, 10 captive-bred Asian Giant Tortoises (Manouria emys), the largest tortoise in mainland Asia, were rewilded into Nagaland’s protected forest Ntangki National Park in Peren district on Monday.

Turtle Survival Alliance

As per reports, the process was undertaken with assistance from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Wildlife Conservation Society India (WCSI).

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“This first monitored rewilding of the critically endangered tortoise in India comes after over five years of conservation breeding efforts at Nagaland Zoological Park, Dimapur,” a statement from TSA read.

The statement mentions that in December last year, the TSA and Creative Conservation Alliance released ten captive-bred individuals in the Matamuhuri valley, Chattogram Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

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Asian Giant Tortoises are critically endangered

The Asian Giant Tortoise is listed as ‘critically endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, Down To Earth reported.

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With 110 hatchlings and juveniles from 13 adults, the Nagaland Zoological Park has the highest number of Asian Giant Tortoise. The juveniles were born in 2018 and have an average weight of 2.4 kilogrammes.

Long-term initiative to engage local communities

Vedpal Singh, Chief Wildlife Warden Nagaland, told HT that Nagaland Forest Department is determined to realise a long-term program to restore an ecologically viable population of Asian Giant Tortoises in the state. He stated that the program would be carried on with the help of stakeholders and partner organisations.

As per reports, the long-term programme will also engage local communities and create awareness to make them active participants in the protection and conservation mission.

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Over-exploitation and unsustainable use for consumption by local communities resulted in the species being pushed to the brink of extinction, Vedapal added.

Dr Shailendra Singh, the principal investigator of joint Asian Giant Tortoise, termed the current release of these animals a big step into the population replenishment phase.

Soft release of the animals

The stakeholders conducted a soft release of the juvenile tortoises to rewild the species and population recovery. Before their release, the animals were conserved and bred for five years at the Nagaland Zoological Park, Dimapur.

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Under the process of soft release, the captive-raised species are gradually introduced into the wild. This process enables the species to develop site fidelity among released individuals. Also, the released species eventually become habituated to living near the release closure. 

“In the first phase, animals will be soft-released or moved to a large natural enclosure with native habitat for acclimation throughout the winters and allowed to disperse into the forests at the onset of monsoon followed by active tracking by a joint project team,” T Aochuba, director, Intanki National Park told Down To Earth.

Rewilding exercises help in collecting data

These rewilding exercises are also used to collect scientific information and develop a better strategy. 

“The exercise will produce the first-ever baseline information for developing the long-term monitoring and eventual release strategy for species supplementation on the regional scale,” said Shailendra Singh.

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