Wanton poaching of turtles in Gandak

The Gandak river has turned out to be a poachers’ paradise in East Champaran district. Turtles are caught and killed unchecked. A group of 30-odd members from Kahalgaon, hires boats from local fishermen to carry out the poaching between Baghwar and Bangra ghats. On an average ten turtles are killed every day and the meat is supplied to local traders for Rs. 70 a kilo.

The river is a habitat of soft-shelled and hard-shelled turtles. These aquatic animals play an important role in the river ecosystem, said Zoological Survey of India scientist. The soft-shelled turtles clean the ecosystem by consuming the carcasses of dead aquatic animals. The hard-shelled turtles are herbivorous and they grovel at the river bottom allowing nutrients to come up in the water column which in turn provide healthy food to column feeder fishes, the scientist added.

The poachers sell the aquatic animal’s meat but keep the turtles’ shell with them and claim to use it in preparing medicines. According to eye-witnesses the poachers also move into West Champaran along the river for the kill. The Kahalgaon poachers use specially designed `Hazara hooks’ to trap turtles.
The local Forest officials are alleged to have turned a Nelson’s eye to the wanton killing. They conducted few raids but did not take follow-up actions, villagers said. Killing of scheduled animals, including turtles, is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

Interestingly, Forest department bosses expressed ignorance about poaching. “We have not received any report in this regard till date, but the department would certainly look into the matter and the field officials would be directed to carry out intensive patrolling in the river stretch to check turtle poaching”, a high official promised to media persons. (BJMC)

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