As many as 63 endangered turtles belonging to five species, which were rescued in Pune, have been brought to their native habitat in the Northeast after an 18-hour-long flight journey.

The endangered species have been brought to Assam State Zoo in Guwahati, reports said.

According to Shailendra Singh, Director of Turtle Survival Alliance’s (TSA) India programme, the turtles, including the endangered Spotted Pond Turtle and Crowned River Turtle, were confiscated by the Pune Forest Division between 2019 and 2020 from poachers and illegal traders.

Singh said the Spotted Pond and the Crowned River species were recently added to the IUCN Red List.

He said that following months of meticulous planning and onerous administrative clearances, 63 endangered turtles were finally flown to Assam on Friday from Pune.

According to Singh, building on the past success of similar translocation operations carried out by the TSA, the expertise of the Alliance was again pressed into service by the forest departments of Maharashtra and Assam.

He said that after the seizure, the turtles were kept in the interim facilities of the Indian Herpetological Society and Resq Charitable Trust in Pune.

He said that the survival of these species of turtles, which are not found in Maharashtra, were threatened by climate fluctuations and unsuitable weather conditions.

“Subsequently, flying the turtles back to their native river systems in Assam remained the only viable option. In the absence of such repatriation measures, the turtles are either released in inappropriate wetlands or remain in captivity for their entire life,” said Singh.

He added that besides the lengthy Covid restrictions and unavailability of any direct flight between Pune and Guwahati, other complications of turtle translocation also had to be taken into account or before embarking on the journey, which ended successfully on Friday.

“The translocation was done as part of the zoo-to-zoo transfer practice. Necessary due diligence would be done before releasing the turtles into the wild,” said the conservationist.

Singh said that each turtle was inspected thoroughly before packing them in padded plastic cartons for their 18-hour flight via Delhi.

After the turtles were received in Guwahati by a joint team of Assam State Zoo and TSA, they have been housed at the Assam State Zoo under observation for eventual rehabilitation into the wild.

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