Incredibly Rare Species of Turtle Found in India

A groundbreaking discovery has been made in India with the identification of the first breeding population of an “incredibly rare” turtle.

Conservationists, in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, have unveiled the nesting site of the elusive Cantor’s giant softshell turtle.

This species, native to the rivers of south and southeast Asia, is categorized as critically endangered.

The discovery of the secretive turtle occurred along the banks of the Chandragiri River in Kerala, southern India.

The study, published in the journal Oryx, was spearheaded by conservationists from various prestigious institutions, including the University of Portsmouth and the Zoological Society of London in England, the University of Miami, the Museum of Zoology at the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Germany, the Florida Museum of Natural History in the US, and the Wildlife Institute of India.

A spokesperson from the University of Portsmouth highlighted that the species is renowned for its rarity and secretive behavior. They emphasized that Cantor’s giant softshell turtle has long been a focal point of fascination and concern among conservationists.

Dr. Francoise Cabada-Blanco, from the university’s school of biological sciences, remarked, “For years, the Cantor turtle’s existence has barely been a murmur against the backdrop of India’s bustling biodiversity, with sightings so scarce that the turtle’s very presence seemed like a ghost from the past.”

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to locate them using conventional ecological survey methods, the research team adopted a different strategy. They relied on local knowledge and historical sightings to pinpoint the exact location of the nest.

Dr. Cabada-Blanco explained that the team effectively engaged with the community, with locals sharing stories of past sightings and even assisting in the live release of turtles accidentally caught as by-catch.

Ayushi Jain, from the Zoological Society of London’s Edge of Existence program, added, “Through household interviews and the establishment of a local alert network, we did not just listen; we learned. The community’s willingness to engage formed the backbone of our project, allowing us to record not just fleeting glimpses of the turtles but evidence of a reproductive population—a discovery that rewrites the narrative of a species thought to be vanishing from India’s waters.”

The efforts resulted in the first documentation of a female nest, and the rescue of eggs from flooded nests. Subsequently, hatchlings were released into the river.

Cantor’s giant softshell turtles inhabit freshwater environments, with individuals often exceeding 1m (3ft) in length and weighing over 100kg (220lb).

Currently, the team is focused on establishing a community hatchery and nursery near the discovery site.

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