Hayagriva Madhava temple: How a centuries-old Hindu temple in Assam helps 'extinct' turtle back to life

Hayagriva Madhava temple (Photo credit: AFP)
The black softshell turtle is officially extinct in the wild, but a centuries-old Indian temple and its nature-loving caretaker are helping them back to life.
Freshwater turtles were very common in Assam until a few decades ago. But their population massively depleted due to habitat loss and over-exploitation.
The black softshell turtle is now extinct in the wild. They were declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2002. However, the Indian softshell turtle and the Indian peacock softshell turtle are classified as vulnerable.

Turtles rest on a bamboo platform in a pond at Hayagriva Madhava temple (Photo credit: AFP)
Meanwhile, the pond of the Hayagriva Madhav temple in the Hajo pilgrimage centre has provided a safe haven to the softshell turtles. Because Hindus consider them as sacred, the incarnations of Lord Maha Vishnu, so they believe it is their duty to protect them from harm.
According to an international media report, in January, 35 turtle hatchlings, including 16 black softshells hand-reared at the temple, was released into a nearby wildlife sanctuary.
According to an AFP report, a key figure is the caretaker of the temple pond, Pranab Malakar, who long before environmentalists became involved took a keen interest in the turtles' wellbeing. Malakar collects eggs laid by the turtles on the banks of the pond and hatch them into an incubator.

The caretaker of the temple pond, Pranab Malakar collecting eggs (photo credit: AFP)
"I used to take care of them as I like them. Later, after I became associated with Good Earth, it became my responsibility," he told AFP.
"No one harms them here as they are incarnations of Lord Vishnu. I was born and grew up here. We have been seeing the turtles since our childhood. People respect them," he said.
The initiative has become a successful model so that they have identified 18 other temple ponds in the area which could be used for the same purpose.