Using local ecological knowledge to determine the status of Cantor's giant softshell turtle Pelochelys cantorii in Kerala, India

Ayushi Jain, V. A. Akshay, V. Deepak, Abhijit Das, Paul Barnes, Benjamin Tapley, Francoise Cavada-Blanco

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The Critically Endangered Cantor's giant softshell turtle Pelochelys cantorii is a freshwater turtle found in South and Southeast Asia. Its population is declining because of habitat destruction and alteration, and hunting for its meat. Data on the species’ ecology, behaviour, population size, distribution and threats are limited, and previous surveys undertaken in India have failed to detect individuals in the wild. This lack of data hinders strategic conservation planning. Ecologists and conservationists increasingly utilize local ecological knowledge to determine the status and gain insights into the ecology of threatened and rare species that are difficult to detect in field studies. To examine the historical and current occurrence of Cantor's giant softshell turtle, we conducted community interviews along the Chandragiri River in Kerala, India. With data from these interviews, we identified multiple sites where the species continues to occur. Older respondents and those that used the river for fishing and irrigation were more likely to report sightings of the species. Our findings also improved knowledge about the turtles’ seasonal and diel activity patterns. A network of key informants identified through the interviews provided information on turtle bycatch, sightings and nesting. This network is being utilized for the continued monitoring of the species and could help in devising evidence-based management strategies for softshell turtles in India. These methods can also be adopted more widely for other threatened species of freshwater turtles globally.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Early online date19 Feb 2024
Publication statusEarly online - 19 Feb 2024


  • Cantor's giant softshell turtle
  • freshwater turtle
  • India
  • Kerala
  • local ecological knowledge
  • Pelochelys cantorii

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