Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh), July 29
In a nondescript corner of Kanpur, a pond near a Shiva temple has become home to a thriving turtle population.
At a time when water bodies in India are either shrinking or vanishing, the pond surrounded by a concrete jungle in Kanpur is thriving mainly due to the religious beliefs of the Hindus.
Hindu devotees ensure that nobody harms the turtles and visitors to the temple feed them regularly.
Turtles are an endangered species and possessing or catching one is banned under India’s Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
According to Rajesh Pathak a local resident, “The temple was built about 200 years ago and the pond is much older. There is a possibility that the turtles may also be very old but things are yet to be verified by a wildlife expert. Till date, no expert has visited the pond.”
According to him, some of the turtles have shells that are three feet long.
Pathak says he once tried to lift them but found them too heavy. “Going by their size and weight, I think they are quite old,” he said.
Pathak is not sure about the number of turtles in the pond. “There may be hundreds in number,” he said.
The surface of the pond looks blackish green and going by the colour, it is hard to believe that the pond supports a rich aquatic life.
The turtles have started responding to human voices. On Tuesdays, a large number of devotees gather at the pond because Tuesday is considered an auspicious day for feeding turtles.
The people shout, “Aah, aah, aah….”
Ripples break the calmness of the surface. Then, there is some disturbance on the surface close to the bank. Finally, with a splash, a turtle appears, perhaps the biggest and the boldest one — its pink mouth wide open.
It hungrily devours the cottage cheese that people are offering. Soon, another one appears. Then, a third. In less than a minute the bank is lined with turtles.
Once the stock of cottage cheese gets exhausted, people start throwing loaves of bread at them. But the turtles have apparently developed a taste for cottage cheese and ignore the bread.
One by one, they start returning to the depths of the pond and soon the surface is once again calm.
“The turtle is much revered in the Hindu mythology. It is mentioned in some texts that the earth rests on the back of a giant turtle. In some, it is written that the turtle is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Many Hindus believe feeding turtles will help them in getting salvation. Hence people feed them,” said Pathak.
“Whatever may be the reason, it is good that if the people are feeding the turtles. Try to imagine what would happen if people stop feeding them. They may starve to death,” he added.
“It is not unusual if a small turtle sneaks into a home but it is safely returned to the pond,” said Pathak.
In the past, some people have tried to poach the turtles but were chased away by locals.
A retired forest official said a turtle population flourishing in a pond in a straggling, unplanned city was no less than a miracle.
“Where in Kanpur can a person today see a turtle? Either in the zoo or in the Ganga,” he said.
“Once, Kanpur had hundreds of ponds. Most of them have disappeared over the years. But if there is a pond that supports a big population of turtles, then it is something very unique. And we must remember that till date no government or any organisation has protected the pond or the turtles. Still, both have survived for such a long time. Steps must be taken to preserve the pond and the lives in it,” the official added.
Rain is the only source of water for the pond at present. Pumps are installed that draw water from the ground and fill the pond. The water level in the pond will then remain constant throughout the year,” said Pathak.