<b>Jury Selection</b> | Photographer of the Year – Portfolio

Jury Selection | Photographer of the Year – Portfolio

A critically endangered chelonian, the Black Softshell Turtle has found an unlikely home in the temple ponds of Cooch Behar, West Bengal. Find out how this turtle is surviving in this urban landscape

by — Ripan Biswas

Mohun in Danger

Previously thought to be extinct in the wild, now regarded as Critically Endangered, the Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is found only in a few ponds in northeastern India and Bangladesh. Locally known as Mohun, the Black Softshell Turtle has found an unlikely home near the Baneshwar Shiva temple ponds in Cooch Behar, West Bengal. The actual number of this understudied species in the wild is unknown. Adding to their woes, many lives are lost to speeding cars in this bustling urban landscape. Captive breeding and relocation may be the only solution for the conservation of this rare turtle.

Until recently believed to be extinct in the wild, the Black Softshell Turtle has strangely found a home for itself around the Baneshwar Shiva temple on the outskirts of Cooch Behar, West Bengal. The human-dominated space is filthy with garbage, amidst which lives this rare and endangered turtle.

Fragmented by roads, railway lines and human settlements, an eye-level view of the turtle shows how difficult it is for them to navigate this concrete landscape.

During the breeding season, these turtles risk their lives crossing a state highway and other smaller roads to visit ponds in the vicinity in search of a potential mate. These journeys often prove to be fatal.

The temple authorities regard the turtles as deities and regularly feed them boiled rice and potato. Of course, only the turtles in the main temple pond get this treatment. Is this helpful or harmful to these turtles is for science to decide. 

Turtles come to the edge of the pond, near the temple steps, to feed on the food being offered.

This is a pregnant female that was run over by a car. With her shell broken, she succumbed to her injuries in a few hours.

Four eggs came out of her body from the impact of the car—two broken and two intact.

Offsprings are the most vulnerable! Their small frame means they are easily overlooked by drivers on the road. This is an offspring of a Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia hurum) run over by a speeding car in the same area.

Ripan Biswas

Ripan Biswas is a wildlife photographer from Coochbehar, West Bengal. An Environmental Science graduate and a school teacher by profession, he has won numerous national and international awards in wildlife photography. Ripan is the only Indian photographer to have won the prestigious "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" competition run by the Natural History Museum, London, three times! He hopes to spread awareness about nature and wildlife through his work.


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