Maneshwar Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
Sambalpur, Odisha Wetland Species Protection 3  Not Available

Case Study (2009)

Background

Maneshwar village, located 10 km from Sambalpur, is a distinctive place where we can observe an intricate relationship between nature and man reflected in local culture and traditions. Maneshwar is famous for its three-century-old Shiva temple, supporting a small population of a globally threatened species, the Indian soft-shelled turtle.

 Box 1

Basic information on Indian soft shelled turtle1

Indian soft-shelled or Ganges soft-shelled turtles are distributed in large river systems like the Mahanadi, Ganges and Indus. They also occur in large ponds and water bodies. These turtles are often kept in religious establishments in Orissa and Assam, where they are nurtured as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This is a carnivorous species, especially attracted towards rotting flesh. It is also known to be fairly adaptable and adapts to an array of food including cooked food. This species breeds two times a year; pre-monsoon (i.e., May-June) and post-monsoon (i.e., November-December). They generally prefer sandy, loose soil, 200-300 m above the water level of a river or a wetland for egg-laying. The clutch size is generally more than sixty (i.e., they lay sixty eggs at once). The exact hatching period is not known. Hatchlings crawl out during night to avoid predators. 

The Ganges soft-shelled turtle is endangered mainly due to illegal, uncontrolled poaching and trading. The meat of this species is devoured inside and outside Orissa as a delicacy. This high demand is posing an immense threat to this species, so much so that in areas where it was once present in thousands, it is now difficult to sight a few individuals. Though this species is included in Schedule I of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, the illegal poaching activities are threatening the existence of the species.

Habitat destruction is known to be another major cause of its disappearance, as more and more wetlands are being built over or getting dried.

The temple at Maneshwar has a pokhari (traditional water tank). According to the local people, there are about one thousand adult turtles and innumerable juveniles in the pokhari, which covers about 2.5-3 ha. This water tank is attached to the temple and fulfils all the water requirements of the temple and other domestic needs of surrounding population. The water tank is surrounded by the temple on one side and an earthen bund on three sides, with stone made embankments at two places for use. However, there are some submerged rock surfaces inside the water tank specially favoured by turtles for sunbathing. During winters, decreased water level exposes the surrounding surface and hundreds of basking turtles can be observed. This three-century-old temple was built by King Balaram; the present population are the descendents of a few turtles released by King Balaram at the time of the temple construction.

Though turtles are protected through religious belief, many people love them and want them to live safely in the pond. The turtles are an important component of the pond freshwater ecosystem, as they feed on decaying material, thereby cleaning the water. They are an important link in the food chain. In these tanks there is a symbiotic association between turtles and humans, where turtles get protection and in turn keep the water clean.

The people of Maneshwar have played an important role in conservation of these turtles. Here turtles get religious importance, affection, devotion and protection. Though this is due to religious beliefs attached to this species, it is proving effective in conservation of this otherwise vulnerable species. People believe that whoever kills or eats turtles from the temple pokhari will suffer misfortune, and therefore nobody dares to hurt them. Instead people feed these turtles on temple bhog, puffed rice, biscuits, etc. The turtles are a special attraction for devotees coming here. Some regular visitors and permanent residents of the temple have developed a deep understanding of the turtle behaviour, which could help in scientific assessment and conservation of this species. 

The banks of the pokhari work as a nesting ground for the turtles, ensuring survival of the population. The banks of this pokhari are also devoid of disturbances like cattle-washing, which ensures protection of eggs. This pokhari is connected to the river Malatijhor by water channels. A water canal adjacent to the pokhari is attached to the river. There is a network of water canals meant for irrigation in the village. This network allows movement of turtles outside the tank during the rainy season when the water level is high. This also ensures exchange of the gene pool, as the turtles are not confined only to the pokhari. If anyone finds a turtle in the nearby area (generally in rainy season turtles disperse in nearby agricultural fields), they come and release them into the temple tank. The tank is facing a natural aging process through accumulation of silt and debris; this is resulting in reduced water-holding capacity. The temple committee is proposing renovation of the tank by removing accumulated debris and silt. However the renovation work is pending, as the committee is concerned about the well-being of the turtles. They fear that cleaning and excavation operation will cause harm to the turtles and their breeding grounds. They are considering a phasewise renovation of the tank in order to ensure minimal harm to the turtles. 

  This case study has been contributed by Smita Ranjane of Vasundhara and Jigyasu Panda of MASS in October 2006.

Smita Ranjane
Vasundhara
Plot no. 15
Sahid Nagar, Bhubaneshwar 751007
Tel: 0674-2542011/12
Email: [email protected]

1 Source: J.C. Daniel, The Book of Indian Reptiles (Mumbai, Bombay Natural History Society, 1983).

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

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Related Information

Traditions of Animal Conservation in Odisha

An overview of the conservation attempts at Maneshwar village and other places in Odisha.

Conservation Reserve and Community Reserve in Odisha: A Study on the Potentials and Initiatives Taken so far

A case study about Maneswar and the conservation of soft-shelled turtles.

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