The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had classified that specimen, popularly known as Bostami turtle, as extinct in the wild.
The fifteenth century temple constructed by King Dhanyamanikya in Udaipur, 55 km from Agartala, is believed to be one of the holiest Hindu shrines in the country and considered to be one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. It is also known as Kurma Pitha because the temple premises resembles ‘Kurma’ i.e. turtle.
The rare species of Bostami turtles inhabit the Kalyan Sagar lying in the eastern side of the temple.
Spread over 6.4 acres, it was a natural habitat of the turtles. They come up to the shore looking for crumbs that visitors buy at the nearby stalls and feed to these reptiles, as part of the rituals. Devotees feed them with puffed rice and biscuits.
The Matabari Temple Committee cemented the banks of the lake about a decade ago killing turtles. A team of Tripura State Pollution Control Board had found that the quality of water in the lake was good and even drinkable.
Death of at least seven tortoises was reported within a year of constructions of the cemented embankments in 1998, officials of the state fisheries department said. Visitors, tourists, pilgrims and devotees are throwing plastic carry bags every day into the lake. As a result the bed of the lake is now full of polythene/plastics bags.
According to the experts, it is only the construction of the embankments that increased the mortality of the turtles spoiling the natural habitat as well as places for laying eggs for this turtles.
“As an amphibian it is extremely essential for the turtle to have sandy exposure, which is not available in the lake after the construction of walls around the water body,” says Mrinal Kanti Dutta, a professor of Central Fisheries College, Lembucherra, near here.
Jyoti Prakash Roy Chowdhury, an environmentalist and a member of State Wildlife Board, said the animal had problem in basking on the beach as the embankments were made pucca.
In the meeting of the State Wildlife Board chaired by Chief Minister Manik Sarkar on June 3, Roy Chowdhury suggested that the back side embankment of the lake be dismantled and land near the lake be acquired so that the turtles could lay eggs comfortably. Sources in the fisheries department said shifting of the animals from the pond is impossible due to religious belief of locals.
A population of these turtle was identified in the kacha pukuri (Pond) on Nilachal hill, next to Kamakhya temple at Guwahati in Assam, Roy Chowdhury said.
These turtles were traditionally believed to be nearly extinct and only available at a pond of the shrine of Hazrat Bayezid Bostami in Chittagong, where there are around 150 of them. He said, “It has been found that at least one wild population still exists in the Jia Bhoroli river, a tributary of Brahmaputra in Assam“.
Roy Chowdhury suspected that there may be some genetic problem as breeding is taking place within a small community in the lakes or ponds. “So, exchange of population and breeding among the new communities is needed to avoid any genetic problem,” he added.