Nature Quest: Elongated tortoise, shrinking habitat
The elongated tortoise is a species of tortoise once found in different areas of the country including Sylhet.
However, shrinking habitat and demand for their meat have seen the tortoise's numbers decline in recent years.
Where once they commonly occurred in the calm waters of beels, in river channels and forests, their distribution is now restricted to hilly areas only.
Apart from habitat destruction, the use of insecticides has also played a role in reducing tortoise numbers, said Tabibur Rahman, assistant conservator of Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department in Moulvibazar.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently lists the species as "endangered".
Swapan Deb Sajal, director of the Bangladesh Bonyo Prani Sheba Foundation, a wildlife care foundation, said the elongated tortoise is in severe decline across its natural range. Ten years ago, he said, this species could be easily found in Lawachhara forest. But they are rarely seen now.
Adding to the problem, local witch doctors also hunt the tortoise for its flesh, which they claim has medicinal properties.
Dr Monirul H Khan, a renowned wildlife researcher and professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University said, the tortoise lives in the mixed evergreen forest of greater Sylhet and Chittagong Hill Tracts. They are 33 cm in size and weigh about three kilograms. They are mainly vegetarian and live off various leaves, green grass, flowers, fruits and mushrooms. The species is found in other South Asian countries, including India and Nepal.
Conservationist agree that steps need to be taken to increase awareness about the tortoise. They also stressed the need to strictly implement laws governing the hunting of wildlife, an illegal act by itself.
Yellow Hill Tortoises, as they are locally known, have a distinct appearance, having a considerably more depressed shell. The shell is usually yellow in colour with black spots or blotches.