GUWAHATI, Dec 5 – Forced out of their traditional farming activities in the face of growing elephant depredation on cropland, scores of farmers in the chaporis of Jorhat district are taking to fishing. This, in turn, is having a debilitating impact on the turtle population in the area, which shelters several endangered turtle species.
According to Jadav Payeng, the Forest Man of India who had single-handedly transformed a barren sand island (Molai Chapori) into a dense forest, killing of turtles has been rampant in several adjoining chaporis.
“Many fishermen, in their desperation to augment their livelihood, are catching turtles in large numbers along with fish. Sometimes this also happens due to ignorance, as some even do not know the turtle to be a protected species,” Paying told The Assam Tribune.
The developments have turned out to be ominous for the thriving turtle population that includes the Assam roofed turtle and the brown roofed turtle, among others. A racket of turtle smuggling has also been operating in the area, and in fact, it is the middlemen who are earning more than the fishermen from the nefarious business.
Turtles are often smuggled outside the district in night super buses, as turtle meat has great demand in the clandestine markets across the State. “It is the rich and educated who constitute the majority of the consumers,” Payeng said.
“The phenomenon of elephant depredation started in 2008 and has since forced many farmers out of their traditional farming. Some 40 per cent of the farmers have switched over to fishing and this has now turned out to be a bane for the turtle population,” said Palash Ranjan Goswami of Seven Look, an NGO engaged in turtle conservation in the area, said.
Borghup, Aruna Chapori, Kartik Chapori and Mekahi Chapori are some of the sand bars on the Brahmaputra that have been affected by the phenomenon.
Goswami said that they were working closely with the communities for checking turtle smuggling. The initiative ‘Turtle and their habitat conservation programme in Molai Kathoni and adjoining areas’ has been on in the area since October. Besides Seven Look, the campaign has with it WTI, CAF India, and the local Forest Department.
Seven Look held a workshop with the local communities on turtle conservation.
Goswami said that the area has great potential for eco-tourism, and if tapped in a sustainable manner, could also offer some much-needed alternative livelihood to the farmers. “Migratory birds also visit the areas in large numbers, and we are conducting an overall survey of the biodiversity,” he added.