Factors such as illegal trade, poaching and indiscriminate hunting are threatening the Keeled box turtle or Cuora mouhotii, a terrestrial species endemic to the forests of Southeast Asia and the foothills of Bhutan. In India, its population is confined to the Northeast region. It is one of the rarest species of turtles found in tropical moist forests. These turtles mainly feed on snails and fish.
Though the Keeled box turtle is listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List, in India it has not been studied in detail as yet, and so, a conservation plan is difficult to launch for its protection.
According to Parimal Ray of Turtle Survival Alliance-India (TSA), it is a beautiful looking species, but often caught by local communities for meat. “We cannot change people’s attitude all of a sudden and expect them to give up consumption,” he said.
The species breeds from May to July. Its clutch size is small, that is the number of eggs laid by females, ranges from 1 to 7, and that is also a huge problem.Ray added that there is a need to explore the distribution range of the species, and then only conservation measures can be launched, which will include spreading awareness among local communities and forest departments.
India is home to 41 species and subspecies of freshwater turtles and tortoises, ranking third in the world in terms of biodiversity.Shailendra Singh, who heads TSA-India, said besides hunting, jhum cultivation and forest clearance are also taking a toll on the species. “TSA is thinking of conserving the species, as part of its programme in northeast India. We will first start baseline information to find out where these turtles are confined at present. Based on that, we will design a proper conservation strategy. If there is a scope for us in case it is declining, we will start conservation breeding programme in zoos.”