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Posted at: Mar 19, 2017, 12:02 AM; last updated: Mar 19, 2017, 9:22 AM (IST)

From K’shetra, a turtle tale

Vishal Joshi in Thana (Kurukshetra)
A chance discovery of an ancient pond in a village leads to a rich biodiversity hotspot
Before a sweet surprise from Haryana, here’s a small turtle episode: As the year began, Uttar Pradesh’s Special Task Force raided a house in Amethi and found 6,400 endangered turtles, weighing about 4,000 kg, stuffed in gunny bags. The destination was Kolkata, the den of illegal turtle trade in India. There are superstitious myths about turtles, and they are in great demand in the international market for their meat, Feng Shui items and for aphrodisiacal medicines. “It is believed that a turtle with all 20 nails — 5 on each leg — brings good luck,” says a senior Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) officer.

Now, the Haryana surprise: state wildlife officials have found a rich biodiversity hotspot at Thana in Kurukshetra, where they discovered a natural habitat of turtles. The chance discovery corroborates a scientific study by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). It confirmed that the ancient village pond ‘Brahmasar’ is a natural habitat of Indian flapshell and shoftshell turtles. Called ‘bhatal’ in the local parlance, villagers say conservation of turtles would bring back the glory of the pond. Remnants of damaged ghats hark back to pond’s ancient past.

The pond, spread across 104 acres, is full of unverified species of fish. Feeding the aquatic life is a routine for the villagers. Located about 50 km from Kurukshetra city, Thana is situated on Pehowa-Kaithal road. State Principal Chief Wildlife of Forests (PCCF) Dr Amarinder Kaur says the department plans a ‘community reserve’ at Thana to undertake conservation of turtles and other wildlife species. While the land will remain a village asset, the panchayat and forest department would work together to protect the site. “It was during a routine field survey that our team came across the pond. We were amused to see the rich biodiversity. Since such a spot did not find a clear mention in our records, so our curiosity increased. WII experts examined and validated the pond as a natural habitat of at least two species of turtles,” Kaur said.

Terming it as a crucial discovery, Kaur says the state wildlife department is working with the villagers to develop the pond. She praises villagers for not using the pond for fishing or other commercial activity, thus ensuring biodiversity.

Village elder Telu Ram says the people respect the pond for its religious importance and never use it for commercial activity. A temple at an island has a stone-carved order of the British era that prohibits cutting of woods or poaching at ‘Bharamsar’. “In revenue records, the pond is vaguely mentioned as Bharamasar. The Brahmasarovar in Kurukshetra is only a replica of our village pond. Following ancient traditions, any life form in and around the pond is protected for generations,” says another villager, Ved Prakash.

An amateur wildlife photographer and avid bird watcher from Kaithal, Dr Chenta Sharma, says he has sited over 100 species of migratory and resident migratory birds at Brahmasar. “Stray dogs, cattle and discharge of village waste are a challenge to the water body,” says Sharma. The state wildlife department head shares Sharma’s concerns, saying that experts will be roped in for a complete audit of flora and fauna at the village so that a concerted conservation plan could be launched. “We also want to analyze several ancient trees and other vegetation in the area,” says Dr Kaur.

Deputy Commissioner Sumedha Kataria says the panchayat has passed a resolution affirming its participation in the conservation initiative. “A herbal park in the vicinity of the proposed community reserve has also been planned,” she said.

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