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Also known as the elongated tortoise (Indotestudo elongata), the sal forest tortoise, recently assessed as critically endangered, is heavily hunted for food.

23 of the 29 species of freshwater turtle and tortoise species found in India come under the threatened category in the IUCN red list and are under severe existential threat due to human activities.

Sal Forest Tortoise

  • The Sal Forest Tortoise is widely distributed over eastern and northern India and Southeast Asia.
  • It is collected both for local use, such as decorative masks, and international wildlife trade.
  • According to the IUCN the population of the species may have fallen by about 80% in the last three generations (90 years).
  • There is little information on the population sizes of the sal forest tortoise, or any such species, mainly because they are so rare, live in remote areas of the forest and funding opportunities to study them are few.

The Issues with their Habitat and Protection

  • The area designated as a protected area network has only a small overlap with the actual habitat it roams around in. Over 90% of the potential distribution of the species falls outside current protected area’s network
  • 29% of the predicted distribution of the species falls within high occurrence fire zones or areas where there is management burning.
  • Especially in northeast India, which is a suitable habitat for the species, they experience jhum fire. (Jhum fire = slash and burn cultivation)
  • Such an intervention may not only directly kill the animals but also open up habitats, which, in turn, increases the chance of people finding the tortoise easily.
  • Protected areas are designated in a largely mammal-centric way. Many reptiles and amphibians which are equally threatened live outside protected areas where exploitation risk is more.

-Source: Times of India

December 2023