The final dash to freedom
Over fifty endangered Indian star tortoises rescued by Wildlife SOS and Karnataka Forest Department from smugglers were released in their natural habitat with satellite tags. A report.
In a first, Wildlife SOS and Karnataka Forest Department have rescued over 50 endangered Star tortoises from smugglers and released them back in their natural habitat after fitting satellite tags on the animals to track their survival. This is the first time that a unique and innovative satellite telemetry study of Indian Star tortoises rescued from illegal wildlife trafficking industry has been initiated. A team of researchers and wildlife biologists monitor the movements and ranging pattern of the tortoises in the wild.
The Indian star tortoises were repatriated from Singapore following epic efforts by the Forest Department and Wildlife SOS to follow up with the Government agencies in Singapore and ACRES. In fact, the PCCF (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden of Karnataka traveled to Singapore with a representative of Wildlife SOS to meet the authorities and do an inspection of the animals.
After several months of negotiations and approvals from Singapore and Indian Government agencies, fifty one tortoises found fit for transport,were finally flown back home to Bangalore International Airport.
Upon completing a mandated quarantine period, the tortoises were transferred to a soft release site where a team of researchers and biologists from Wildlife SOS monitored their health status and studying their behavior patterns to ensure that the tortoises qualified for release into the wild.
The Satellite Tags attached to some of the tortoises indicates their movement pattern, pace and location using satellite locations. As a part of the research study, factors like health condition, body weight, behavior patterns, adaptation to wild foraging etc are also being documented. The Satellite tags combined with radio-transmitters are attached to the carapace of the tortoises which is the dorsal portion of its shell. This will enable the research team to track and monitor the movements and ranging patterns of the tortoises.
Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder & CEO Wildlife SOS said, “We are grateful to the Karnataka Forest Department and Chief Wildlife Warden for making the rescue and release of these tortoises possible. The satellite tags have been installed on rescued tortoises with permission of Chief Wildlife Warden which will help monitor post-release survival.”
Dr Arun. A. Sha Director- Research & Veterinary Operations, Wildlife SOS said,“The Star Tortoises were first released in a specially designed enclosure as a part of the soft release procedure to prepare the animals for the final release into the wild. This was a crucial time as we had to allow the star tortoises to get acclimatized to the transmitters on their backs. This project will help us study their feeding ecology and to identify their preferred micro habitats in this region.”
Shri Sanjay Mohan, IFS – PCCF(Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, Karnataka said, “This is the first time this species is re-introduced in the wild and survival monitored using satellite tags. This study will help pave a path for future re-introduction efforts in the state. ”
Indian star tortoise(Geochelone Elegans) is protected under Indian law and listed in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna). Yet it is one of the most trafficked tortoise species in the world, in the pet trade, for meat and body parts in traditional Chinese medicine. The rising demand is fueling illegal trafficking of tortoises from India to South East Asia.
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Wildlife SOS (WSOS) is a non-profit charity established in 1998 with the primary objective of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in distress across India. We actively run wildlife and nature protection projects to promote conservation, combat poaching & illegal wildlife trade. We also work in partnership with the Government and indigenous communities to create sustainable, alternate livelihoods for erstwhile poacher communities.