• The black softshell turtle was declared extinct in the wild as far back as 2002.
  • But, in a centuries-old temple in India, the adjoining pond and its nature-loving caretaker, are helping the creature make a tentative comeback.
  • A batch of 35 turtle hatchlings, including 16 black softshell hand-reared at the temple, was released into a nearby wildlife sanctuary.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The black softshell turtle is officially extinct in the wild, But, in a centuries-old temple in India, the adjoining pond and its nature-loving caretaker, are helping the creature make a tentative comeback, AFP reports.

Assam was once rich in freshwater turtles. But, thanks to habitat loss and over-exploitation, this state in north eastern India known for its wildlife, archaeological sites and tea plantations, has massively depleted their population.

The black softshell turtle was declared extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as far back as 2002. A fate that other turtles in India like the softshell turtle and the Indian peacock softshell turtle are on the cusp of being.

Thanks to the Hayagriva Madhav temple in the Hajo pilgrimage centre, the black softshell has found a haven, thanks to the sacred status of turtles protecting them from harm.

A key figure is the caretaker of the temple pond, Pranab Malakar, who long before environmentalists became involved took a keen interest in the turtles' wellbeing.

"No one harms them here as they are incarnations of Lord Vishnu (a Hindu deity). I was born and grew up here. We have been seeing the turtles since our childhood. People respect them," said Malakar.

But it is not without its challenges. Hundreds of visitors flock to the temple daily to feed bread to the turtles which can be a big problem as the turtles are losing their capacity to fend for themselves.

Which is where a conservation group called Help Earth come in. Together with Malakar they have started a turtle breeding programme and in January, a batch of 35 turtle hatchlings, including 16 black softshell hand-reared at the temple, was released into a nearby wildlife sanctuary. This in order to attempt to reintroduce the turtles back into the wild before they become too domesticated.

"This has triggered some biological changes among the turtles in the pond. They have also lost their natural tendency of hunting for food,” said Jayaditya Purkayastha, from Help Earth.

Help Earth say on their website they have identified 12 species of turtles living within different temple ponds of Assam. The project has been so successful that Help Earth has identified 18 other temple ponds in the area which could also be used for similar initiatives.

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