I, as well as other faculty members from across India and the U.S., gave lectures and laboratory practicals and participated in two short field trips. Our first field trip was to the Assam State Zoo and its botanical garden for some lessons in urban herpetology. This small sanctuary inside the city of Guwatahu offers many local students the chance to get hands-on experience without having to raise funds to travel to distance wildlife refuges.
The second field trip was an overnight visit to Kaziranga National Park, noted for having the greatest density of Indian rhinos in the world. I was taken aback by the beauty and abundance of wildlife in the park during our dawn elephant ride. With over 50 tigers, hundreds of wild water buffalo, as well as the rhinos, it isn’t safe to explore the park by foot.After our all-too-short elephant ride, we took a Jeep safari in hopes of finding the endemic Assam roofed turtle Pangshura sylhetensis basking in some of the backwaters of the park. I first saw a picture of this species over 20 years ago and have longed to see this endangered species in the wild. Luckily, we were able to spot groups of adults and juveniles basking on a fallen log protruding from the riverbank. I was smiling from ear to ear after a half hour of photographing the animals through my 400mm telephoto lens. I think the students got a real kick out of watching me snap photo after photo of the same group of turtles, in hopes of getting that one really great shot. I had previously been the butt of their jokes when I failed miserably at drawing on the white board during one of my lectures. They all hoped that my photography skills were going to be better than my drawing skills!
I’m now headed back to my field site in Uttar Pradesh along the Chambal River. I am hoping to see the hatching of the endangered Indian narrowheaded softshell turtle Chitra indica in nests we have been protecting from predators and poachers. These are real giants of the turtle world, bigger than some sea turtles and laying as many as 192 eggs in a single clutch. (You can see Chitra indica in the San Diego Zoo’s gharial exhibit). Since 2007, we have been protecting nests that we find along the Chambal and Ghaghra Rivers (see post India: Life on the Chambal). Last year we were able to hatch almost a thousand turtles!
It is time for me to catch my plane. After a short 3.5-hour flight, I’ll have a long drive from Delhi. It is going to be a long day but well worth it!
Brian Horne is a postdoctoral fellow for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, The Making of a Turtle Biologist.