Asian Giant Tortoise is identified as a critically endangered species. There is now hope of saving it from extinction after the newborn babies have survived in Bhawal National Park – the locus of experiment, now home to some 41 of the species.
For the first time in history, tortoise is breeding in captivity. The Forest Department and conservationists joined hands to make this possible.
Die to their effort, the adage "slow and steady wins the game" has once again proved that Asian Giant Tortoise's journey will not come to an end. The species that faced extinction in Bangladesh will have a second chance.
Asian Giant Tortoise is land inhabitant. This is why their physical structure differs from the water turtles. They have stronger legs to roam around in the forest carrying the huge and heavy shell on their back. The shell grows so strong with time that it works as a hedge against any predators. There is saying that tigers cannot attack them for the shell works like a shield in the true sense of the word.
Traditionally, Asian giant tortoises are spotted in countries like Bangladesh, India, Myanmar or Indonesia, roaming the forests with their resilient legs.
One of the conservationists informed The Business Standard that they are most vulnerable till the age of six or seven. After that their shell becomes mature and other animals cannot attack them anymore.
Then why the species became critically endangered?
"Land tortoise find their home in forests and deforestation is a regular phenomenon here. This is why habitation problem is crucial in South Asian countries. Additionally, those that survive this problem frequently fall prey to poaching," said conservationist Shahriar Caesar Rahman.
He explained that tortoise is a part of cuisine in many places. This is another reason why these species are going extinct gradually.
"They can protect themselves from wild animals but stand helpless before human being" informed Shahriar Caesar.
Only an estimated 50 tortoises exist into the wild of Bangladesh now.
Creative Conservation Alliance started surveying the rare wild animals of dense forest in 2011. They discovered tortoise of different species and found that all of them were fighting the threat of extinction.
This is when they took this current conservation initiative.
With the help of the Bangladesh Forest Department, they brought specimens into the National park with balanced male-female ratio under the project named "Turtle Conservation center."
There were confusions if they will respond in a captivated area or not.
But two males and five female tortoises soon became compatible among each other. Within two years, four of the female tortoise hatched eggs.
"The other one is still immature. We can expect eggs from her in the next two years," said Fahim Zaman, another conservationist.
They hatched 46 eggs among which 41 survived.
The goal is to take them into the wild and set them free. There is still a tension about whether they will be comfortable into the wild.
Yet, the conservationists are positive about their effort and future plan.
Fahim Zaman said to The Business Standard, "It took USA 20 years and Myanmar 5 years to make breeding happen in a captive space. In India only two eggs survived among 60. Compared to those, it is of course a positive landmark we have created."
He said that they have selected a spot for the baby tortoises. They will take them there after few more days where they are expected to learn to adapt to the forest environment.
According to conservationist Shahriar Caesar, captive breeding is not enough if poaching goes on.
This is why Creative Conservation Alliance has involved tribes from hill tract areas in their project.
Educating them is important as well for protecting the wild animals.
They have opened up a school in the hill area. Tribal children get free education there. In addition, the families are inspired about making crafts which are sold in Aranya boutique in Dhaka.
"When they will earn money and be able to buy food with it, hunting will decrease automatically," said Shahriar Caesar.
When The Business Standard asked Jahir Uddin Akon from the Wildlife Crime Control Unit about the species, he said the journey and effort involving breeding of land tortoise had not been easy.
"Working in the hill tract region is complicated in itself. Moreover, we lacked research instruments. Creative Conservation Alliance had worked hard for that," said Jahir Uddin.
He also said how they modelled an incubator for the hatching of those eggs by consulting international researchers.
"The weariness of such hard works simply vanished the moment the tortoises took their first steps. According to our plan, we will set them free in the wild soon and hopefully that will turn out successful," said Jahir Uddin Akon in an optimistic voice.