Sunday, November 04, 2007

Rescue of Sal Forest Tortoise

Rescue of East Asian or Elongated or Sal Forest Tortoise Indotestudo elongata from South Sikkim

Gangtok: Present day Sikkim limits do not seem to have records of tortoises of any kind especially in the lowland forests. Hence we were surprised to get reports of a little yellow tortoise in the last week of July 2007. The rescuers were two labourers working at the site of a Rock Garden construction, at the base of nearby Tarey Bhir on the bank of a seasonal rivulet called Khanni Khola. The little tortoise weighing in at just one kilogram was handed over to the Range Officer (Territorial) Melli, South Sikkim through the Panchayat of the area. Mr. S. Tshering SFS ACF (Territorial) South took custody of the animal and seeking to identify it brought it to the Chief Wildlife Warden at Gangtok where it was temporarily housed at the Himalayan Zoological Park at c. 1900m altitude. Usha Lachungpa Sr. Research Officer (WL) identified it as a male Sal Forest Tortoise Indotestudo elongata (Blyth) of the Family Testudinidae.

This cold-blooded reptile is one of the only four land tortoises found in India. It is legally protected under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 as amended up to 2006.

Mr. B. C. Choudhury renowned Indian herpetologist of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, informs that the Elongated Tortoise is distributed in the Sal or ‘Sakhua’ forest belt across the Himalayan foothills and is known to be over-exploited for food especially by tribal people. Today it is best represented in Bihar especially in the Saranda and Champaran areas. The tortoise is also recorded from West Bengal. Its western-most limits are the Rajaji National Park Elephant Corridor and Simbalwada WLS in Himachal Pradesh where it has been collected by Wildlife Institute of India researchers with one unconfirmed record from Nahan, HP at c. 650m altitude.

The tortoise is known to be a secretive forest floor dweller. Its normal coloration is yellow with black blotches on its carapace and plastron (both making up the tortoise-shell), but these may not be so pronounced in a mature individual. Lack or loss of pigmentation in the wild could be due to weathering or lack of sunshine and in captivity due to handling or diet. This particular individual was very pale, indicative of it having escaped from captivity. Further investigations ascertained this. It seems that the reptile was found along the Sevoke road by a local person who picked it up and cared for it until its escape and subsequent recovery. Gangtok zoo altitude is too high so the little tortoise has been rehabilitated in suitable lowland habitat at Baguwa, South Sikkim by the Wildlife Circle until such time when it could be sent to any Indian zoo falling within its home range for a well supervised scientific conservation breeding programme.

Dept. of Forest, Env. & WL Management
Govt. of Sikkim
15th October 2007