Jan. 15: Freshwater turtles and tortoises that laze around on the sandy banks of the Barak are ending up in the chef?s pan, thanks to a group of unscrupulous hunters who don?t mind sullying their hands with the blood of an endangered species.
In Assam, the Barak basin was considered the turtles? last home where they sunbathed in swarms and swam back at leisure.
That was till fishermen discovered how profitable their delicious meat could be.
Every monsoon, as the reptiles leave the waters and crawl to the banks to lay eggs, fishermen wait with their nets, hooks and lines, and occasionally even spears for their ?prize catch?.
?The predators among men are the main enemy of the turtles. They continue to butcher the freshwater reptiles in Barak Valley districts in general and Cachar district in particular for pecuniary gains,? said Abhik Gupta, a professor of ecology in Assam University, 18km south of Silchar town.
He did not hazard a guess about the estimated number of turtles and tortoises in the Barak waters, but said if the hunt continued, the species would be wiped out in the next few years.
A senior forest department official admitted that turtles were fast disappearing from the riverbank.
A few concerned citizens send ?alert? notices to the department when turtles flood the local market, fetching Rs 600 a kg.
In July last year, his staff stopped the sale of a giant turtle after being tipped off by a resident. It was later released into the Barak.
A document of the Cachar forest office prepared six years ago shows that on April 27, 2001, a few Trionyx gangeticus turtles were spotted lazing on the bank of a stream of Longai river in Karimganj district, waiting to hatch eggs. After being hunted down in scores, such sightings have become rare.
Though the Indo-Gangetic flap shell turtle can still be found abundantly in the Barak Valley, the narrow-headed softshell turtles, Indian softshell turtles, Indian peacock soft shell turtles and Asian giant soft shell turtles are fast vanishing from the river banks.
?The time is not far when Cachar district will be left without a single specimen of turtles,? said S. Suryanarayan, the conservator of forests in south Assam.