The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), a field project of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)-India, organizes outreach programs among school and college students to create awareness among them about the condition of turtles and tortoises. The most recent program was conducted at TSA’s Nature Discovery Centre in Biswanath Ghat, Assam, in November 2019. The educational workshop was attended by 25-30 students from Tezpur University, Assam, during which they were informed about the local biodiversity and how important it was to conserve the herpetofauna in the region.
“The students were enlightened about the various kinds of animals we work with and what can be done to conserve them. They were also informed of the various opportunities at TSA. The delegation was led by Dr. Ashalata Devi and was quite a success,” said TSA’s Northeast Project Coordinator Dr. Parimal Chandra Ray. “By reaching out to students, we extend our technical help in case they need it for their dissertations and also gather information from them which aids our work with the reptiles.”
This is not the first college-level outreach program conducted by TSA, confirmed Dr. Ray. In March 2018, TSA had put up a stall as part of a conference in Guwahati University. During the conference which lasted three days, TSA reached out to many students and instructed them about the organisation’s work. After the conference, Dr. Ray said, many students approached them with interest in doing research.
Every year, TSA’s international delegation pays a visit to India, during which period the group along with Dr. Ray visit universities and colleges so that students get overall exposure about the work done by the TSA on a larger scale across the world. In 2018, TSA’s facilities manager and lead keeper had visited India and had dropped by at Guwahati university to interact with the students. “This is our way of using online and offline resources to create awareness among people, who in turn would help revive the turtle population,” added Dr. Ray.
TSA does not confine its workshops to universities and colleges. In January 2019, it started a school outreach program at its center in Biswanath district during which 20-30 teachers from twenty schools nearby were trained to enlighten students. After that, TSA’s groups also conducted workshops in schools with the trained teachers as local coordinators.
“We focus on classes from grade 6 to 12; and with this outreach program, we reached out to at least 8,000 students from local schools. TSA also invited students to visit our center when free, to have more information about our work,” said Dr. Ray.
Many might wonder how these outreach programs translate into saving the endangered species in the area. Biswanath Ghat area has a high diversity of turtle species. Therefore, it is TSA’s target to enlighten the community and students regarding all the species people come across daily. However, their main focus is on the extensive research conducted on Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) and the Assam Roofed Turtle (Pangshura sylhetensis).
Assam Roofed Turtle. Photo courtesy: Rajeev Basumatary
“The outreach programs on turtles and other reptiles helped to raise awareness among the local people around Biswanath District. Initially we got cases where people mostly consumed turtle meat or had kept them as pets. But now, the locals and students help us to rescue turtles. We get many more rescue calls than a year ago. We keep the forest department in the loop as well. People get appreciation from the department for their work, which has shown an improvement in efforts. Even when they find venomous snakes, people wait patiently for us without disturbing the reptile. One student and a forester even stopped their families from donating turtles in the temple pond. North Bank of Brahmaputra is a vast area. It will take few years for us to reach our goal, but with constant awareness we hope for better results in the future,” said Arpita Dutta of TSA.
When asked about the expansion of outreach programs among students, Dutta confirmed it saying, “Absolutely. We plan to extend the outreach program on the farther area of north bank with the forest department and also involve local NGOs so that we can reach out to many educational institutes and local communities.”
By Arathi Mini
Arathi Mini is a journalist with over five years of experience and has worked in organizations such as the International Business Times, The Hindu and Hindustan Times in India. She recently took a break from the busy newsroom and moved to Antibes, France. An animal lover, Arathi's house always had more stray cats and dogs than people.