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Native Indian turtles face U.S. slider threat

Context:

The American turtle – red-eared slider, popular as a pet is threatening to invade the natural water bodies across the Northeast, home to 21 of the 29 vulnerable native Indian species of freshwater turtles and tortoises.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation of Biodiversity, Species in news)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Red-eared slider
  2. What are Alien Invasive Species?
  3. About the recent studies on Red-eared sliders in India
  4. Turtles and Turtle conservation in India

About the Red-eared slider

  • The red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) derives its name from red stripes around the part where its ears would be and from its ability to slide quickly off any surface into the water.
  • The red-eared slider originated from the area around the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, in warm climates in the Southeastern United States.
  • They also require abundant aquatic plants, as these are the adults’ main food, although they are omnivores.
  • This turtle is an extremely popular pet due to its small size, easy maintenance, and relatively low cost. But on the flip side, they grow fast and virtually leaves nothing for the native species to eat.
  • People who keep it as pets become sensitive about turtle conservation but endanger the local ecosystem, probably unknowingly, by releasing them in natural water bodies after they outgrow an aquarium, tank or pool at home.

What are Alien Invasive Species?

An alien species is a species introduced outside its normal distribution – and when they out-compete the native species and upset the ecological balance in the place outside their natural area where they are introduced deliberately or accidentally – they become Alien Invasive Species.

The most common characteristics of invasive species are:

  1. Rapid reproduction and growth,
  2. High dispersal ability,
  3. Ability to survive on various food types,
  4. Ability to survive in a wide range of environmental conditions
  5. Ability to adapt physiologically to new conditions- phenotypic plasticity.

Due to various factors like lack of a predatory species capable of restricting their population or the abundance of suitable food in the region where they are introduced – these invasive species outnumber and outcompete other similar native species and disturb the biodiversity significantly.

About the recent studies on Red-eared sliders in India

  • A team of herpetologists from NGO Help Earth found red-eared sliders in the Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ugratara temple pond – both in Guwahati.
  • Another report said a red-eared slider was collected from an unnamed stream, connected to the Tlawng River, on a farm near Mizoram capital Aizawl.
  • The invasive species, red-eared slider, has already affected States such as Karnataka and Gujarat, where it has been found in 33 natural water bodies. But more than elsewhere in India, preventing this invasive species from overtaking the Brahmaputra and other river ecosystems in the Northeast is crucial because the Northeast is home to more than 72% of the turtle and tortoise species in the country, all of them very rare.
  • Although the red-eared slider is traded legally, the time has come for the government to come up with regulations against keeping invasive as pets.

Turtles and Turtle conservation in India

  • There are five turtle species in Indian waters — Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Green and Olive Ridley.
  • In India sea turtles are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, under the Schedule I Part II.
  • Every year, thousands of sea turtles are accidentally captured, injured or killed by mechanised boats, trawl nets and gill nets operated and used by comercial fishermen.
  • The turtle breeding season is usually between November and December. In Tamil Nadu, for example, the Olive Ridley nests between December and April along the Chennai-Kancheepuram coastline.
  • Sea turtles, especially the leatherback, keep jellyfish under control, thereby helping to maintain healthy fish stocks in the oceans.
  • The Green turtle feeds on sea grass beds and by cropping the grass provide a nursery for numerous species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans.

-Source: The Hindu

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