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June 22, 2012

More Than 7,000 Olive Ridley Hatchlings Rescued in India

Humane Society International/India

  • At least a chance of survival. APOWA

Good news from the state of Orissa in India, where in just one month, HSI, working with local volunteers and partner agency Action for Protection of Wild Animals (APOWA), managed to help more than 7,000 olive ridley hatchlings make it safely to sea.

“We had expected to rescue 5,000 turtles, but the final tally exceeded our expectations, and we couldn’t be happier,” said Soham Mukherjee, a humane handling and wildlife expert with HSI/India.

Increasing survival rates

As mentioned in our earlier report, the survival of olive ridley turtles, famed for their mass nesting, is threatened in India by a number of factors, including large-scale port projects and the resulting environmental degradation. “Each turtle lays as many as 150 eggs, but despite these large numbers, the natural survival rate is low, and only a few of these animals reach adulthood after they make it to the ocean,” explained Mukherjee.

Being at the right place

Before initiating the month-long rescue program, our team assessed various sites to identify locations to support, as the beaches well-known for mass nesting already get attention from other groups. We chose three largely ignored key sites on the coast of Orissa, where intermittent nesting was taking place but the turtles were threatened. Not only were many eggs being eaten by feral dogs, but the wet sand, due to unseasonal rain, was making it hard for the hatchlings to find their way to the water.

Deploying training and support where it was needed the most was crucial. At one of the sites, predation by feral dogs decreased from 112 nests (documented a few nights before the rescue began) to two in the entire month. This dramatic reduction and the number of released hatchlings—7,897, to be precise—are testimony to effective strategic planning.

Engaging local talent

Another key decision made by the team was to train local fishermen as volunteers. They are forbidden from fishing during the nesting season to protect the turtles or their hatchlings from being caught. They also revere the turtles as a form of God Vishnu (per Hindu beliefs) and they were eager to help.

“We engaged the right people. Local community participation is the key to any conservation success story, and we managed to obtain just that. Besides, we did it at the right place—away from the glamour of mass nesting, these remote beaches were completely ignored despite the opportunity to engage volunteers from nearby villages,” said Rahul Sehgal, director of HSI/India.

Knowing that 7,897 more sea turtles are out there because of us makes us very proud indeed! We plan to repeat this project on an even larger scale in the coming years.

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