Disney?s Conservation Hero for 2008

Posted on the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) website, Saturday, June 7th, 2008

World Environment day brings good news for India?s Turtles

Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has selected Mr. Shailendra Singh from India as a 2008 Disney Worldwide?s Conservation Hero. He is the first Indian to receive this prestigious award.

Working tirelessly under harsh conditions in the rugged Chambal River valley, Shailendra ?Shai? Singh spearheads the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust/Turtle Survival Alliance?s (MCBT/TSA) Freshwater Turtle Conservation Programme, which aims to ensure the region?s turtles will survive well into the future.

Shai, a promising young herpetologist (person who studies reptiles and amphibians) hails from the small village of Jarwal Road near Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh. At nine yeas of age, he acquired two Indian Tent turtles ?Tom and Tinky?. His early observations of his pets fuelled his interest to observe turtles in their natural environment. These early field studies at times incurred his mother?s wrath, especially when he cut up his new mosquito net to fish for turtles!!

After completing both a Bachelor and Masters of Science from University of Lucknow in biology and environmental science (respectively) he volunteered with local non-governmental groups as well as the Kukrail Turtle and Gharial Breeding Centre in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Yet, Shai?s decision to pursue a career in wildlife conservation at times met with opposition from his parents, as he turned down a lucrative officer?s appointment with the Indian Border Security Force. Instead he followed the inspiration Romulus Whitaker and encouragement of Mr. Dhruvjyoti Basu and accepted the position as project scientist for MCBT/TSA turtle conservation programme. This project aims to increase the population of the critically endangered red-crowned roof turtle, Batagur kachuga, in its last stronghold, the National Chambal Sanctuary. The only river sanctuary in India, these approximately 400 kilometers of protected habitat maintain the last 400-500 adult B. kachuga known to science.

In four short years he has accomplished a great deal. Notably, Shai has helped develop a small turtle headstarting facility, the Garhaita Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, near Etawah. In addition he has overseen the renovations of a defunct gharial enclosure into second headstarting facility at the Deori Ecocentre near Gwailor, Madhya Pradesh He has also been instrumental in the creation of several in-situ riverside hatcheries within the National Chambal Sanctuary. In hopes of increasing the capacity of these facilities, Shai is actively fundraising to complete his vision of a model ?green? turtle conservation project with bio-filtration and solar/wind driven pumping systems that maximize energy and water use.

Active in both community environmental education and reforestation programmes within the National Chambal Sanctuary, Shai at times, has used personal funds to conduct workshops for school children on the importance of conserving biodiversity within the sanctuary. These small workshops have now blossomed into thousands of school children visiting the Garhaita Turtle Rehabilitation Centre annually. He has also conducted surveys across northern Indian on the impacts and scale of India?s turtle trade, which has culminated in his collaboration Kalpana Subramanian with on the production of an international award winning documentary film with support from the British High Commission, on the perilous plight of Indian turtles and the urgent need for greater conservation measures to ensure their survival.

These accomplishments are surely just the start of a long and illustrious career, as Shai?s commitment to conservation is unwavering and an inspiration to us all.