The Golden turtle in the featured photo was rescued from Dhanushadham Municipality, Nepal on April 14, 2018. Dev Narayan Mandal identified it as an Indian Flapshell Turtle ( Scientific name: Lissemys punctate).
Indian Flapshell Turtle normally is greenish-grey in colour, with yellow marks on its head and neck. It has a grey carapace dotted with dark yellow spots and derives its name from the femoral flaps at the plastron, the ventral part of the shell.
But the turtle discovered in Dhanusha has a golden colour, quite a rare attribute is due to the lack of body pigmentation the researchers said. Researchers-trio, Kamal Devkota, Dev Narayan Mandal, and Hinrich Kaiser confirmed that this Golden turtle was returned to its natural habitat after making this photo
Indian Flapshell Turtles are found in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, most typically in ditches, lakes, ponds, and paddy fields with stagnant water. Omnivorous in nature, they eat anything from leaves and flowers to snails, fish, and frogs.
While a normal-colored flapshell turtle can easily camouflage itself in the murky, greenish water, its golden-colored variant — a turtle with chromatic leucism — is easily recognizable and therefore more vulnerable. Its luminous golden color, in particular, makes it a prized pet.
Albinism and leucism in Turtles
The congenital disorder of albinism creates a complete absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes due to the lack of tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in the production of melanin. Researchers estimate that albinism occurs once in every 10,000 mammal births.
Leucism, on the other hand, is an extremely rare genetic condition in which animals have reduced pigmentation. Most leucistic animals have normal-colored eyes, whereas those with albinism tend to have red or pink eyes.
Nepal is home to 16 species of turtles, of which four are critically endangered: the three-striped roofed turtle (Kachuga dhongoka), the red-crowned roofed turtle (Kachuga kachuga), the Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle (Chitra indica) and the elongated tortoise (Indotestudo elongata).
Turtles in Nepal
Though turtles play an important role in reducing pollution by feeding on insects, vegetation, and dead animals, factors like habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation have been threatening their survival.
According to “Turtles of Nepal – A Field Guide for Species Accounts and Distribution,” the draining of wetlands for irrigation and fishing, the excessive use of agrochemicals that eventually seep into waterways, and unsustainable fishing methods all negatively impact turtle populations.
Adding to their woes is the illegal trade for keeping turtles as pets, as well as their use in traditional medicine. Some people believe in eating turtles and their eggs to achieve improved health, longevity and virility. Turtle shells are also used to make curio items.
Despite such threats to Nepal’s turtles, conservationists and other local bodies, such as the Turtle Rescue and Conservation Center in eastern Nepal, have been working to save these magnificent creatures.
This article was first published in Global Voices