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How an expedition to Arunachal Pradesh led to the discovery of a new tortoise species


If it were easy it wouldn't be an expedition. A team of Bengaluru-based wildlife researchers embarked on a mission to distant forest in Arunachal Pradesh, confronted hardship and turned lucky when they chanced upon two individuals (a male and a female) of the Impressed Tortoise (Manouria impressa) in Arunachal Pradesh

The discovery is the first record of this tortoise from India, increasing the total number to 29 species of non-marine chelonians and five tortoises in the country.

Image credit: Wildlife Conservation Society – India

This is the elusive medium sized tortoise species which inhabits moist primary forests of the hilly tracts of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot. The latest sighting further raises the status of the country as well as the state in the list of strategic turtle conservation priority areas.

The habitat of the tortoise is humid, moist hill and montane forest up to elevations of at least 1300 metres. However, the species in its home range is threatened by poaching primarily for traditional medicine and pet trade.

This is an elusive medium-sized tortoise species which inhabits moist primary forests of the hilly tracts of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot. The last reported range of the species was from Gwa in Myanmar, where TSA/WCS is carrying out a conservation breeding of this endangered tortoise for further reintroduction into the wild.

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The survey team consisted of Bunty Tao and Dr Bharat Bhushan Bhatt of Arunachal Forest Department, Dr Shailendra Singh and Arpita Dutta from Turtle Survival Alliance/ Wildlife Conservation Society-India and Dr. Jayaditya Purkayastha from Help Earth.

This finding emphasises the importance of conducting extensive herpetofaunal survey in northeastern India, especially along the border areas. Future surveys will be carried out near the area of occurrence and locations prioritized from interviews with locals from the area, leading to an ecologically viable population of the species in the area.

In India, tortoise is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It is one of the most trafficked tortoise species in the world owing to the unique star-like radiating pattern on their shell.

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