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Wednesday, March 19

Hunting threatens endemic turtles in Kerala

Travancore tortoise, Indotestudo travancorica, reptile hunting, turtle hunting, hunting in western ghats
Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo travancorica)
(Photo Credit: Arun Kanagavel)

 Cochin forest cane turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica) and Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo travancorica)- two endemic reptiles found only in Southern Western Ghats- are hunted by locals and indigenous people including contract workers of Kerala Forest Department in Vazhachal and Chalakkudy forest divisions in Kerala , claims a new study published in the Asian Journal of Conservation Biology.

The researchers have met with tribal and non-tribal communities in the locality who claimed to have collected sack full of Travancore tortoises while clearing fire lines as contract labourers for the Forest Department  in these forest areas.

“These Chelonians (a taxonomic order which includes reptiles like turtles and tortoises) were usually collected while “cutting” fire-lines during the annual fire-management initiatives undertaken by the Forest Department and during the collection of non-timber forest produce (NTFPs). Respondents stated that they filled ‘sack loads’ of chelonians especially while clearing bamboo stretches”, says the study.

The study conducted by Arun Kanagavel and Rajeev Raghavan of Conservation Research Group (CRG) at St. Albert’s College, Kochi, found that both indigenous people settled inside the forest area as well as the non-indigenous people living around are involved in the hunting spree. As per the data shared by the study , Travancore tortoise is hunted down more as it is larger in size and comparatively easier to find than the Cochin forest cane turtle.

By conducting informal interviews with the people in the area, the researchers claim that a total of 76 turtles were collected by local communities during 2009 to 2010 among which 65 were Travancore tortoises and 11 were Cochin forest cane turtles.

Superstition and local demand as driving forces
As per the researchers, superstitions about the medicinal property of the turtle meat are a cause that drives these hunters. There is a belief that eating turtle meat will help piles patients to retract the piles affected tracts like the turtle draws its head into the shell.

It was also revealed that the local restaurants and toddy shops in the area are colluding with the hunter network by buying turtle meat for serving their customers. Moreover, outsiders also approach the hunters for buying the turtles, as per the researchers.

"A few hotels/toddy shops sell the meat, which they source from the surrounding indigenous and non-indigenous communities, some individuals could be more involved in this than others, depending on the demand", says Arun Kanagavel.

The study has also revealed that the hunters in the area have a good knowledge about the ecology and behavior of both the turtles which makes it easy to spot them. Moreover, they also keep dogs which are specially trained to spot these turtles in the forest. While the bigger turtles were readily consumed, smaller ones are reared in homes until they reach bigger sizes.

Hunting as a Conservation Challenge
Though Travancore tortoise is abundantly found than Cochin forest cane turtle, the study shows its rate of consumption by hunters is six times more than that of  Cochin forest cane turtle. "There are areas where the species have been locally extirpated or in little abundance, especially around existing indigenous settlements. The high rate may not wipe it off completely, but will have adverse effects on the population, in terms of population size, morphology and genetics", warns Arun.

Both the species are protected under Wildlife Protection Act, which makes it a punishable offense to hunt them. However, hunting does not happen due to legal ignorance, says the study. All the respondents from the local communities whom the researchers have interviewed knew that it is a crime to hunt the turtles. "All the respondents knew that consumption of the two chelonians was illegal", says the study.

As per the researchers, the forest department should take preventive actions like deploying forest staff for ground level supervision during the contract works like fire line clearance. Measures like restricting the number of dogs allowed in a settlement may also bring down the rate of hunting in these parts of Western Ghats, says the study. 

"The Kerala Forest Department had run a poster campaign by featuring the Star tortoise, owl, boas and other animals which people collected/killed due to various superstitions. A similar poster campaign can also be launched towards these two chelonian species", says the researcher.

However, such initiatives should take into consideration of the cultural and life-style differences of the indigenous people in the area, suggest the researchers. "The cultural traditions of the tribal communities needs to be integrated with wildlife conservation and an appropriate initiative has to be designed in consultation with them.  These communities have been historically hunter-gatherers and this needs to be taken into consideration", says Arun.


  1. This is really nice topic, which is very use full for me.

  2. All researchers are legally mandated to report the matter immediately. But then the data may not be forthcoming!!!

    1. Exactly ! It is often a tricky situation for the researchers.

  3. It's a pity that preying is leading to extinction of species.

    1. Tomichan, Thanks for the comment. However, if it is only the predation happening at natural rates, it will not normally contribute to the extinction of a species. However, here what happens is that factors like habitat destruction also is contributing to the fall in the population of these endemic reptiles. Any way, this hunting may not extinct them technically, but it may wipe them off from the specific part of Western Ghats.


  4. Nice information, i will make use of it..

  5. Useful and needed post! Not only turtle every endangered animals should be taken care of both government and the people


  6. Awesome post, thanks for sharing this post..

  7. this is a great post, there should be restriction for hunting animanls.


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