The Turtle Savior

The presence of mind to handle a situation is one of the most important lessons in life! And a quick wit along with a Compassionate heart provide an additional advantage in solving a problem. Here we (Dr. Raju Vyas & Vishal Mistry also contributed to the article) narrate a rescue story where a little boy’s presence of mind played a crucial role in saving a turtle’s life.

The winters in Charotar were really cold with temperatures dropping to 5° C in the night. With such low temperatures, all that the muggers (Crocodylus palustris) wanted, was to bask in the morning sun. But the sun would not grace until 9:00 am and it is only after 9 that they start emerging from the pond to bask. This basking activity provides a great opportunity for counting and observing the muggers. Although the night counts provide the population estimates, these basking counts are extremely important to generate information about size classes within the population. Every year the Voluntary Nature Conservancy (Vidyanagar Nature Club) with the help of volunteers engage in counting crocodiles. On 17 January 2016, we were at the village pond of Heranj village in the Kheda district of Gujarat for carrying out the annual crocodile count. A group of small boys were playing near the village pond and seeing us do the count approached inquisitively. One of them asked about our whereabouts and work and we described our activities and our agenda in conservation efforts thereby justifying our presence in the village.

During the count, we chanced upon a freshwater turtle in a well at the edge of the water body. The turtle was floating in water and looked ill. On further observation we found that the turtle was unable to swim in the putrid water of the well that was filled with plastic litter, floating branches, small logs and other garbage thrown in. The turtle definitely needed to be rescued. During our discussion, the bold and the curious boy who asked about our whereabouts questioned as to what had happened to the turtle. We explained the condition of the turtle and the fact that it needed to be rescued from the well to a cleaner natural habitat at the earliest. While contemplating on the rescue that would require a long sturdy rope and other pulling and trapping equipment, we did not realize when the boy disappeared. While we were deciding to make a visit again for rescuing the turtle, the boy came back with a small plank tied to some thin kite threads. It was a small platform devised to be suspended over a height through threads. And before we could figure out how it might work, the boy hung the devise over the edge of the well and descended it. Within a couple of minutes, the platform appeared out of the well along with the turtle. We stood there watching this rescue with amazement!

Photo Credits: Vishal Mistry

The boy had made this devise with whatever he could lay his hands on in his immediate surroundings; dried twigs, few branches and straw and all these were tied with colorful threads. When we inquired about how he managed to acquire all these with such promptness, he mentioned that the kite festival was celebrated (14th & 15th January 2016) in Gujarat just two days ago. With plenty of tangled strong thread available in the vicinity, it was easy to make. The small platform was light in weight and so he even tied a small weight for easy descent. The rescued individual was a juvenile common flap-shell turtle (Lissymes puncatata) and seemed to be suffering from hypoglycemia due to the static cold water of the well.

Photo: Soham Mukerjee

The entire rescue operation was an eye-opener for us. Not only were we all impressed with the efforts and compassion of this little boy, we were surprised with the way he handled the situation. It tells us that sometimes the willingness to accomplish a task outweighs the limitations. Sometimes traditional methods and quick wit can achieve what serious discussions and fear of shortcomings cannot. After releasing the turtle in the pond of the village, we moved on to the other village to count the crocodiles, but the boy and his rescue mission was the only topic that prevailed in our discussions for the next 3-4 hours.

This piece first appeared in: Saevus Magazine, March- May Issue, 2017