Turtles are unique in morphology, physiology and life history. Turtles are one of the world’s most threatened major vertebrate groups, with half of turtle species at the risk of extinction. Fresh water turtles play critical ecological role by helping in nutrient cycling, controlling aquatic vegetation and serve as scavengers maintaining lakes and river in healthy condition. In Nepal, turtles occupy significant cultural value for many people. Shuklaphanta National Park, located at the south-western corner of lowland Terai, is important for the diversity of herpetofauna. The park consists of many fresh water lakes and river systems which can provide important habitat for turtles. However, the herpetofauna including turtles are the least understood species. The diversity, distribution and conservation challenges of turtle in the Shuklaphanta is poorly known. This project is to understand turtle’s diversity, distribution and their conservation challenges in the Park.
Total five species: Nilssonia gangetica, Nilssonia hurum, Lissemys punctate, Melanochelys tricarinata and Pangshura tecta were found in the park. From literature review, Pangshura tentoria (Schleich and Kästle, 2002), Chitra indica (Kästle et al., 2013) and Indotestuda elongate (Shah and Tiwari 2004) have been recorded from the area. Among all recorded species, Lissemys punctata was the most abundant (Pi = 28.57) followed by Nilssonia gangetica (Pi=23.81). The least
abundant species was Melanochelys tricarinata (Pi=9.52). The distribution map for these species is given below.
The result showed that the Melanochelys tricarinata is closely associated in human disturbed area where as Lissemys punctata show close association with moderately disturbed areas. Other species Nilssonia hurum, Nilssonia gangetica and Pangshura tecta had a close association with those areas where there is less human disturbance as shown in the CCA ordination diagram.
The project analyzed the changes in the wetland areas (especially lakes, locally called Tal) over ten years (2008 to 2018) using GIS and the results showed that there is extensive degradation of wetlands. Over 10 years, Tara Tal was degraded about 78.07%, Rani Tal lost 65.97% of its area and Kalikitch Tal lost an area of 21.45%. The major conservation challenges are habitat loss and degradation, illegal trade for commercial exploitation, illegal and unsustainable harvesting for meat and use of poison for fishing by local people.