This 31-year-old's bleeding heart beats for conservation of turtles, tortoises and crocodiles. Here's why she does what she does

Arunima Singh is currently pursuing her PhD in Turtle Ecology Integral University, Lucknow, and is a part of many conservation programmes 
On field | (Pic: NatWest Group India)
On field | (Pic: NatWest Group India)

As a young girl, Arunima Singh was often found on the banks of River Gomti in Malihabad, looking at turtles. Today, she is a fierce guardian of the same turtles, since 2011. Not just turtles, her conservation efforts extend to tortoises and dolphins as well. This has won her many recognitions and the latest addition to her award shelf is the Earth Hero Award by NatWest Group India (earlier known as the Royal Bank of Scotland). This award honours individuals and institutions who have dedicated their lives to conservation. 

"The jury is often confronted with having to choose between a young conservationist with drive, backed by science, and an experienced campaigner who has stuck it through upheavals. It’s never an easy choice and the jury has not adopted a particular ethos. Arunima is an excellent example of the former. I am sure she, in turn, will inspire and groom more conservation leaders who will play their role out as upholders of India’s conservation ethic," explains Sunil Kumar N, Head of Sustainable Banking India and Head of NatWest India Foundation, regarding this youngster receiving the honour.

Arunima Singh releasing a radio transmitter-tagged gravid female turtle into the wild to understand the nesting ecology (Pic: Sreeparna Dutta)

It is from 2011 that this 31-year-old has been dedicated to these causes and one of the first initiatives she took was creating assurance colonies (colonies of endangered species) near Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre and even conducting educational sessions to sensitise fishermen, police officials and forest officers towards the cause. Red-crowned roofed turtle, Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle, crowned river turtle, tricarinate hill turtle, Indian softshell turtle and spotted pond turtle are the species that the youngster is developing assurance colonies for.

"My team and I also help rescue and rehabilitate species that smugglers often try to sell on the black market," says the youngster and by 'team' she means the folks back at the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) where she works as India Project Coordinator. In their most recent efforts, around 200 to 330 turtles were smuggled from River Gomti to Hyderabad and were caught. The TSA arranged for the turtles to be rehabilitated at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad before they were sent over to Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre for a month-long rehabilitation to check for injuries, odd behaviour or such. "We released them back to River Gomti just last month," says Arunima, who was awarded Prakriti Ratna for the Nature and Wildlife Conservation conference organised by PhD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2018. 

Officials and Arunima releasing a gharial into the wild | (Pic: NatWest Group India)

Education is at the cornerstone of Arunima's conservation efforts and it is, to a large extent, where her heart lies. "Since 2013, we have been conducting programmes with teachers so that they, in turn, can educate the students. The topics revolve around the importance of conservation. We have conducted 50 such sessions in government schools of Bahraich (a city in Uttar Pradesh)," says Arunima who pursued her Master's in Life Sciences from Lucknow University and in many ways, that's where her conservation journey began. She is actually quite happy with the education programmes that they have carried out because till date, she receives calls from children when turtles get stuck in their father's fishing nets. The fishermen in the area eat turtle eggs and turtles too, so programmes directed at them help too.

Arunima is also working with police officials and forest officers to sensitise them. Due to their efforts, SPT (Special Task Force) has managed to put a stop to 7,000 to 8,000 smuggling cases. "Working towards a cause like turtle conservation is a big deal," she notes. A volunteering programme she conducted back in 2015-2016 is paying rich dividends even now, with the participants starting their own efforts. "Also, stakeholders need to work together, that's the only way conservation can work and pay off," she says. 

But for Arunima, when turtles are released back into River Gomti, the same river on the banks of which she has spent many hours as a child, that image of them being back where they belong, in the wild — that's what gives her the most amount of satisfaction. And that keeps her going till date.   

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