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Turtles in India

There are a large number of turtles in India. This comes as no surprise as India is the seventh-largest country in the world in terms of land size.

In all, there are about 25 turtle species in India with several of the species on the verge of extinction. Some of the species facing extinction include the Asian Giant softshell, Leith’s softshell, red-crowned roofed turtle, northern river terrapin, and black softshell.

In this article we will cover 23 of those species.

India is also home to one of the largest freshwater turtles, the Asian giant softshell. This turtle can reach lengths of 51 inches and a mass of 550 lb (250 kg). 

Turtle Species Native to India

1. Tricarinate Hill Turtle

Three-keeled Land Turtle (Melanochelys tricarinata) in dry grass on concrete near Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh, India
A Three-keeled Land Turtle (Melanochelys tricarinata) in dry grass on concrete near Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Melanochelys tricarinata
  • Common Names: shila kochop (Bengali), Three-keeled Land Turtle
  • Max Shell Length: 6 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Endangered on IUCN Red List

The species is a medium size turtle that can reach lengths of 6 inches. The turtle has a domed carapace that is dark in coloration and bears three keels. The plastron is yellow.

The yellow keels on the turtle’s carapace can be used to identify the species. The feet of the species aren’t webbed as the turtle is terrestrial. 

The species has been observed in Orang Wildlife Sanctuary &  Kaziranga National Park in Assam and Dudhwa Tiger Reserve & Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh. Melanochelys tricarinata can be found on the hills of deciduous forests. 

The endangered nature of the turtle means that it is included in CITES I which makes all international trade of the species illegal. Also, the species is listed under Schedule I of the wildlife protection act.

This prohibits the collection of wild specimens unless you have a license from federal and provincial authorities. The species is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List.

The threats to the species include subsistence consumption and habitat degradation. The loss of the forest habitat of the species has had a significant impact on the populations.

The turtle’s shell is also used for the making of curio turtle masks which are sold in craft and tourist markets throughout Southeast Asia. Also, the collection of specimens for the pet trade has also negatively impacted the populations especially since the turtle has grown in popularity in Asia. 

2. Red-crowned Roofed Turtle

Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga) basking on a rock near water by Hanuman Temple, Morena, India
A Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga) basking on a rock near water by Hanuman Temple, Morena, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Batagur kachuga
  • Common Names: sadhua, sal (Hindi), adi kori katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 19.8 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

The red-crowned roofed turtle is a large freshwater turtle that can reach a length of 20 inches.

The red-crowned roofed turtle has a flat carapace and a keel. The carapace is brown to olive in coloration. The plastron is yellowish.

During the breeding season, males have red stripes on the neck. The top of the head turns red and the sides of the head turn blue. All other times, the males are brown or olive. Females are always brown or olive in coloration.

The species can be found in the Chambal National Park which is located in Madhya Pradesh. The species inhabits the Ganges River.

The red-crowned roofed turtle is a critically endangered turtle on the IUCN Red List. This turtle is also included in the CITES II.

This allows the trade as long as it isn’t detrimental to the wild population. Also, the trade must be acceptable under the national legislature. The turtle is listed under Schedule 1 of the WLPA (Wildlife Protection Act).

Threats faced by this turtle include collection for consumption as well as the collection for the East Asian export trade.

Additionally, other threats include water pollution and hydrological constructions. Fisheries bycatch is another threat to the wild populations.

3. Indian Softshell Turtle

Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) on a grassy hill in Rajasthan, India
An Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) on a grassy hill in Rajasthan, India. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae 
  • Scientific Name: Nilssonia gangetica
  • Common Names: patal, kachua, kathawah (Hindi), ganga kachim (Bengali), Ganges Softshell Turtle
  • Max Shell Length: 28 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Endangered on IUCN Red List

The Indian softshell is a giant turtle that can reach lengths of 28 inches.

Although this turtle isn’t as huge as the Asian giant softshell, it is nevertheless a huge turtle. This turtle can be found in large reservoirs and large river systems such as the Mahanadi, Indus, and Ganges Rivers. 

The Indian softshell looks similar to other softshell turtles found in India. The carapace is olive green in color. The turtle has a downturned snout and eyelike patterns on the carapace. These markings fade with age.

The species occurs in Chambal National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, Harike Lake in  Punjab, and Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan.

The turtle is listed as Endangered in the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species is also listed in the CITES I which means that international trade of the species is prohibited. Regardless of the turtle’s conservation status, it is still exploited within its geographic range.

Nilssonia gangetica faces several threats. The most significant of which is the collection for consumption and international trade. Between 2000 and 2015, over 15,000 live Indian softshell turtles were confiscated on the illegal trade market. 

4. Southeast Asian Box Turtle (Domed Malayan Box Turtle)

Domed Malayan Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis kamaroma) on a road near Kampung Gajah, Malaysia
A Domed Malayan Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis kamaroma) on a road near Kampung Gajah, Malaysia. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Cuora amboinensis kamaroma 
  • Common Names: pahari kachua (Hindi), chapa katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 8 inches
  • Conservation Status: Endangered on IUCN Red List

The subspecies of this turtle endemic to India is known as the Malayan box turtle. C. amboinensis is a medium-size semi-aquatic Asian box turtle and can grow to a carapace length of 8 inches. 

The turtle has a domed carapace which is olive, black, or brown in coloration. The plastron is pale with black blotches. The top of the head is dark green or brown and features yellow stripes. The feet of this semi-aquatic turtle are webbed.

The Malayan box turtle is a semi-aquatic turtle that can be found in flooded paddy fields, swamps, and marshes.

The turtle is endemic to D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary, Manas Tiger Reserve, and Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam, and Galathea National Park in Great Nicobar.

Cuora amboinensis is listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered. Wild population numbers are decreasing sharply.  C. amboinensis is also listed in the CITES Appendix II in 2000, as such international trade of the species is allowed but only if it is detrimental to the population.

Trade is also regulated by national legislation. C. amboinensis is not included in Schedules of the WLPA (Indian Wildlife Protection Act). However, the inclusion is necessary as it qualifies to be listed under Schedule IV.

Threats to C. amboinensis include the collection and trade for consumption and traditional medicine. These two are the main threats facing the species.

This turtle is believed to be the most collected turtle for the consumption trade in East Asia. These turtles are also collected in large numbers for the pet grade both globally and regionally.

5. Spotted Pond Turtle

Spotted Pond Turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii) in grass and straw found in New Delhi, India
A Spotted Pond Turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii) in grass and straw found in New Delhi, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Geoclemys hamiltonii
  • Common Names: bhut katha, kalo (Bengali), Black Pond Turtle, Indian Spotted Turtle
  • Max Shell Length: 14 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Endangered on IUCN Red List

The spotted pond turtle is a large turtle and the species is capable of reaching lengths of 14 inches. 

This pond turtle can be easily identified by the yellow and white spots on the head which are dark in coloration. The spots are also visible on the limbs.

The spots give the species its common name. The carapace has three noticeable keels. The carapace is black with yellow blotches. The plastron is yellow with black blotches. The feet of the species are webbed.

The species have been observed in Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Orang National Park, and Kaziranga National Park in Assam, and Harike Lake in Punjab.

Geoclemys hamiltonii is listed as an Endangered species on the IUCN Red List. This terrapin is also included in the CITES I. This prohibits all international trade. The turtle is listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. 

Threats faced by this turtle include collection for the food trade and the pet trade. Some other significant threats include fisheries bycatch and destruction of nesting sites.

6. Keeled Box Turtle

Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii) in grass by Tezu, Lohit, India
A Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii) in grass by Tezu, Lohit, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Cuora mouhotii
  • Other Names: Jagged-shelled Turtle
  • Max Shell Length: 7 inches
  • Conservation Status: Endangered on IUCN Red List

 C. mouhotii is a medium-size terrestrial turtle that can grow to a carapace length of 7 inches. 

The turtle has a flattened carapace. The carapace has serrated marginals and three keels which gives the turtle its common name.

The carapace is olive-brown in coloration. The plastron on the other hand is yellow in color. The feet of individuals may be partially webbed or not webbed at all.  

The species is a terrestrial turtle and can be found in hill forests.

The turtle is endemic to Mupa Lanteng Rainforest in Assam, and Mehoo Wildlife Sanctuary & Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.

Cuora mouhotii is listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered. Wild population numbers are decreasing sharply.  C. mouhotii is also listed in the CITES Appendix II as such international trade of the species is allowed but only if it is detrimental to the population.

Trade is also regulated by national legislation. C. mouhotii is not included in Schedules of the WLPA (Indian Wildlife Protection Act). this may be necessary since the habitats of the species are susceptible to degradation

The main threat to the species is the collection for consumption and the pet trade. They may also be collected for traditional medicine in China and Vietnam.

Habitat degradation is another threat to the species. The species is sensitive to habitat degradation and as such forest loss has negatively affected wild population numbers.

7. Indian Black Turtle

Indian Black Turtle (Melanochelys trijuga) on rocks near Gurudwra Shri Gobind Dham, Uttarakhand, India
An Indian Black Turtle (Melanochelys trijuga) on rocks near Gurudwra Shri Gobind Dham, Uttarakhand, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Melanochelys trijuga
  • Common Names: talao kachua (Hindi), kai aamai / tanni (Tamil)
  • Max Shell Length: 9 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

This turtle is also known as the peninsular black turtle. M. trijuga is an aquatic turtle that can reach a length of 9 inches. 

The turtle has a flat carapace which is black or brown in coloration. The plastron is dark in color. The feet are webbed.

The Indian black turtle is a semi-aquatic turtle that can be found in ponds, rivers, and forests.

The turtle is endemic to most of the protected areas within its geographic range. These include  Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary in Meghalaya, Corbett Tiger Reserve & Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam, and Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary & Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu.

Melanochelys trijuga is listed on the IUCN Red List as of Least Concern. M. trijuga is also listed in the CITES Appendix II in 2013. M. trijuga is not included in the Schedules of the WLPA (Indian Wildlife Protection Act). 

Threats to the species include the collection and trade for consumption.

8. Northern River Terrapin

Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) swimming at the surface of a pool of water at Schönbrunn Zoo, Austria
A Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) swimming at the surface of a pool of water at Schönbrunn Zoo, Austria. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Batagur baska
  • Common Names: sona katha, boro ketho, pora katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 24 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

The northern river terrapin is a large freshwater turtle that can reach a length of 24 inches. This turtle can be found in lakes, rivers, canals, and estuaries. The species is critically endangered. 

The northern river terrapin is a huge turtle with a flat brown carapace and sawed jaws. Each foot has four claws and is fully webbed to aid in swimming.

The species can be found in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary in Orissa and Sunderban Tiger Reserve in West Bengal. 

The northern river terrapin is listed as a Critically Endangered species on the IUCN Red List. This terrapin is also included in the CITES I. This prohibits all international trade of the terrapin. The turtle is listed under Schedule 1 of the WLPA. 

Threats faced by this turtle include collection for food as well as for ritualistic consumption. Other threats include fisheries bycatch, hydrological projects, and human settlement development.

9. Three-striped Roofed Turtle

Three-striped Roofed Turtle (Batagur dhongoka) popping its head out of water in Umri Firozpur, Rajasthan, India
A Three-striped Roofed Turtle (Batagur dhongoka) popping its head out of water in Umri Firozpur, Rajasthan, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Batagur dhongoka
  • Common Name: barsi, dhor (Hindi), sada katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 16 inches
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

The species is a large turtle that reaches lengths of 16 inches. This turtle has a flattened carapace that has a single keel. The carapace is brown or olive while the plastron is yellow. 

The species has been observed in River Dolphin Sanctuary in Bhagalpur in Bihar, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Saranath Turtle Sanctuary, & Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, and Chambal National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

The species is not included in the Schedules of WLPA as the turtle was not critically endangered in the past. Currently, it needs to be included in the Schedules of WLPA  as the species is currently critically endangered. The species is included in the CITES II and has an IUCN Red List Status of Critically Endangered.

The main threat that this species faced was the collection for consumption and trade. This has led to a severe decrease in the wild populations. The presence of the turtle in markets is rare due to its critically endangered nature. The critically endangered nature of the turtle also means that they are difficult to find in commercial trade. However, specimens have been confiscated in recent years.

The turtle is highly affected by the construction of hydrological structures as these lead to changes in nesting beaches and the river flow dynamics. Other threats include fisheries bycatch and water pollution.

10. Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle

  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Chitra indica
  • Common Names: seontar, sitra/chitra (Hindi), sitra/chitra (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length:  43 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule IV on the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Endangered on IUCN Red List

Indian narrow-headed softshell is one of the large softshell turtles endemic to India. This turtle can be found in Chambal National Park in Madhya Pradesh and Harike Lake in Punjab. 

The Indian narrow-headed softshell is aquatic and lives in large riverine systems such as the Mahanadi, Indus, Godavari, and Ganges Rivers. 

The turtle is a softshell turtle species and as such has a tough leathery shell instead of a bony shell. The carapace of the Indian narrow-headed softshell is olive in coloration. The plastron is white in coloration. This turtle can grow to a length of 43 inches. As you can see, this turtle is huge. 

The species is listed on the CITES II. The turtle is also considered Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Furthermore, the species is protected under Schedule IV of WLPA. 

11. Indian Flapshell Turtle

Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata) in some dead grass in Sambhar, India
An Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata) in some dead grass in Sambhar, India. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Lissemys punctata
  • Common Names: matia, sundri (Hindi), til kachim (Bengali), pal aamai (Tamil)
  • Max Shell Length: 14 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Vulnerable on IUCN Red List

Lissemys punctata is a large freshwater turtle that can reach lengths of 14 inches. The turtle has an olive-brown carapace with yellow spots. The turtle is a softshell and as such as a leathery shell instead of a hard bony carapace. The plastron is pale in coloration. The head also features several yellow spots. 

The turtle can be found in ponds and rivers.

The species has been observed throughout most of mainland India. It occurs in Chambal National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Chilika Lake, Gahirmatha Wildlife Sanctuary, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, Harike Lake in Punjab, Hazaribagh Wildlife Sanctuary in Bihar, Kaziranga National Park in Assam, Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, Nandan Kadan National Park in Orissa, and Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. 

The turtle is listed as Vulnerable in the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species is also listed in the CITES II which means that international trade of the species is monitored. The species is also included in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. 

Historically the Lissemys punctata has been collected for consumption. This has negatively affected the wild populations. Sadly, they are among the most illegally traded turtles on the commercial trade with Lissemys punctata making up 50% of all turtles confiscated in markets. The species is collected for consumption and for use in traditional medicine, 

12. Indian Tent Turtle

Indian Tent Turtle (Pangshura tentoria) perched on a rock at Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, India
An Indian Tent Turtle (Pangshura tentoria) perched on a rock at Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pangshura tentoria
  • Common Names: Pachera (Hindi), Majhari Katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 11.8 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

P. tentoria is a large turtle that can reach a length of  12 inches. The turtle lives in river systems and ponds. 

The turtle has an elevated carapace that has flat sides and a keel. The carapace is brown in coloration and the plastron is pink/yellow with dark blotches. The feet are webbed.

The turtle looks very similar to the Indian roofed turtle and was once considered a subspecies of that turtle. However unlike that turtle, the Indian tent turtle lacks the crescent pattern near the eye.

The species can be found in river systems including the Mahanadi, Krishna, Godavari, and Ganges Rivers. It can also be found in ponds.

The turtle is endemic to Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary and Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh.

Pangshura tentoria is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern. Wild population numbers are stable.  P. tentoria is also listed in the CITES Appendix II as such international trade of the species is monitored. Also, P. tentoria is likely to be included in Schedule II of the WLPA (Indian Wildlife Protection Act).

The main threat to the species includes the collection for consumption locally. They are also collected for the international pet trade although the turtles collected include mostly juveniles and the numbers are moderate. Other threats to the wild population include habitat loss caused by the conversion of riparian habitats to agricultural lands, construction of reservoirs, and sand mining. 

13. Black Softshell Turtle

Black Soft-shelled Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) sticking its head out of water taken by Rohan Uddin Fahad
A Black Soft-shelled Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) sticking its head out of water taken by Rohan Uddin Fahad. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae 
  • Scientific Name: Nilssonia nigricans
  • Common Names: Bostami Turtle
  • Max Shell Length: 35.5 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule IV on the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

The black softshell turtle is one of the rarest turtles on the planet. The species is considered to be on the verge of extinction. Until recently, the species was considered to be extinct in the wild. 

The turtle can be found in Assam, particularly Kaziranga National Park and Nameri National Park. Specimens have also been confirmed to occur in Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh.

N. nigricans is listed on the CITES I. This prohibits the international trade of the species. N. nigricans is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Also, the species is protected under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act. 

14. Assam & Asian Leaf Turtle

Assam Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys gemeli) on wet dirt near Tingkhai khullen Hill, Manipur, India
An Assam Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys gemeli) on wet dirt near Tingkhai khullen Hill, Manipur, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Cyclemys gemeli, Cyclemys dentata 
  • Common Names: Katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 10 inches
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List

The Assam leaf turtle is a mid-sized turtle endemic to India. This turtle grows to a length of 10 inches and can be found in hill forests. 

The carapace of the turtle is brown to olive in coloration. There are dark lines radiating from the center of each scute on the carapace. If you look closely, you can see a slight keel on the carapace.

This turtle isn’t domed – it has a flat carapace. The turtle is bi-cuspid and has a hooked upper jaw/beak. The feet of this turtle aren’t webbed. 

Wild populations of Assam leaf turtles can be found in the Chessa Rainforest in Arunachal Pradesh. In Assam, the species occur in the Mupa-Lanteng rainforest, Nameri Wildlife Sanctuary, and Sibsagar Wildlife Sanctuary. Outside of India, this turtle can be found in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The turtle is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Asian leaf turtle and the Assam leaf turtle are listed under CITES II as of 2013 and 2018 respectively. Threats to the species include human consumption and the collection for the international pet trade.

While the species isn’t common in India, in Indonesia where it is common, around 14,000 wild specimens are collected yearly. This has had a significant impact on the wild populations.

15. Indian Eyed Turtle

  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Morenia petersi
  • Common Names: halsey katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 8 inches
  • Conservation Status: Endangered on IUCN Red List

 M. petersi is a moderately sized turtle that can reach a carapace length of 8 inches. This turtle is aquatic and can be found in rivers.

The turtle has a domed carapace which is dark in coloration with green stripes, looped lines, and circles. The plastron is orange to yellow in coloration with black blotches on the scutes.

As an aquatic species, the feet are webbed. The turtle has a dark olive head and three orange/yellow stripes and a pointed snout.

This turtle is known to inhibit riverine systems.

The turtle is endemic to Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Kaziranga National Park, and Deepor Beel Ramsar Site in Assam and in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh.

Morenia petersi is an endangered species that is listed on the IUCN Red List as such – Endangered. M. petersi is also listed in the CITES Appendix II. However, it is not included in the Schedules of the WLPA (Indian Wildlife Protection Act).

Threats to M. petersi include collection for consumption locally. Large numbers are also exported to East Asia where they are consumed.

Another threat to white populations includes the conversion of the turtle’s habitats to agricultural lands and dams. Pollution and pesticide & fertilizer runoff are also threats to wild populations as these destroy the habitats. 

16. Assam Roofed Turtle

Assam Roofed Turtle (Pangshura sylhetensis) on a log at Kurhati, Assam, India
An Assam Roofed Turtle (Pangshura sylhetensis) on a log at Kurhati, Assam, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pangshura sylhetensis
  • Common Names: kath kathua (Hindi), kori kathua (Sylhet)
  • Max Shell Length: 8 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

The Assam roofed turtle is a mid-sized turtle endemic to India. This turtle grows to a length of 8 inches and can be found in streams and ponds. As you can see this turtle is aquatic. 

The turtle can be easily identified by its high carapace and vertebral spiked keel also the backend of the carapace is serrated. the upper jaw is weakly hooked. As this turtle is aquatic, the feet are webbed.

The carapace of the turtle is olive-gray to brown in coloration. Additionally, the underside is yellow with black spots. The turtle also has a yellow stripe from the lower jaw to the back of the head. 

The turtle is aquatic and can be found in streams and ponds. 

Wild populations can be found in the Dibru-Saikhowa Wildlife sanctuary, the Nameri wildlife sanctuary, and the Manas tiger reserve all of which are in Assam. The turtle also occurs in the Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary in Mizoram and Pakhui.

The turtle is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Assam roofed turtle is listed under CITES II as of 2003. With this, the commercial trade of the species is monitored.

The turtle has also been included under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Act. The main threats to the species are the collection for the pet trade, fishery bycatch, the construction of dams and water management structures, and forestry & agricultural effluents. 

17. Asian Giant Softshell Turtle

Asian Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) sitting on a hose near Ketenong, Indonesia
An Asian Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) sitting on a hose near Ketenong, Indonesia. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae 
  • Scientific Name: Pelochelys cantorii
  • Common Names: Jata Kachim (Bengali), Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle
  • Max Shell Length: 40 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

The Asian giant softshell is a huge turtle that can reach lengths of over 50 inches. Realistically, you are likely to come across a specimen that is 40 inches in carapace length.

The turtle is also very heavy, reaching a mass of 550 lbs. The turtle has a tough leathery carapace instead of the bony carapace found in most turtles. The carapace is brown with spots. The plastron is cream in coloration. 

The species has been observed in Bhitar Kanika Wildlife Sanctuary in Orissa, Marine National Park in Tamil Nadu, and the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve in West Bengal. Outside India, the species can be found in Cambodia.

The turtle is listed as Critically Endangered in the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species is also listed in the CITES II which means that international trade of the species is monitored. The species is also included in the CITES Appendix II. 

Threats that Pelochelys cantorii face include consumption, and habitat destruction, and degradation. The turtle has historically been consumed by locals. This has led to the critically endangered nature of the species.

The nests of the species are also poached. Industrial developments, the expansion of cities and other human settlements, and the development of ports and harbors have all negatively impacted wild populations.

18. Brown Roofed Turtle

Brown Roofed Turtle (Pangshura smithii) in sand in Biswanath Ghat, Assam, India
A Brown Roofed Turtle (Pangshura smithii) in sand in Biswanath Ghat, Assam, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pangshura smithii
  • Common Names: chapant, pachera (Hindi), vaittal katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length:  9 inches
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened on IUCN Red List

The brown-roofed turtle is an aquatic turtle found in the rivers of India. This turtle is moderately sized and reaches lengths of 9 inches. 

The carapace of this turtle is flattened. If you look closely you can see that it is keeled. As an aquatic turtle, the feet are webbed.

The carapace is olive-brown and the plastron is black in coloration. The turtle can be identified by its gray head which is dark on top and the brown spots behind each eye.

The turtle is aquatic and can be found in rivers. These include the Indus River, Ganges River, and all the main tributaries of these two rivers. 

The turtle can be found in Uttar Pradesh (specifically Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary), Punjab, Bihar, and Assam (specifically the Orang Wildlife Sanctuary, Manas Tiger Reserve, and Kaziranga National Park). The turtle can also be found in the Brahmaputra and Ganga River systems in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

The turtle is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The brown-roofed turtle is listed under CITES Appendix  II.

The turtle is not included under Schedules of the Indian Wildlife Act. The main threats to the species are the collection for human consumption and for the pet trade. The turtle is also exported to other parts of East Asia for consumption. 

19. Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle

Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia hurum) on concrete under someone's hands in Kuan Pokhar, Bihar, India
An Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia hurum) on concrete under someone’s hands in Kuan Pokhar, Bihar, India. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae 
  • Scientific Name: Nilssonia hurum
  • Common Names: charpaiya, kachua, kathawah (Hindi), dhum kachim (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length:  23.5 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Endangered on IUCN Red List

Indian peacock softshell gets its common name from the eye patterns on the shell. This turtle is a softshell turtle and as such has a tough leathery shell instead of a hard bony shell.

The carapace of the shell is olive green in coloration. The eye marking on the turtle will disappear with age. 

The Indian peacock softshell can be found in large rivers such as the Ganges River.

The species occurs in Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary, Namdapha Tiger Reserve, Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary, and D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary in  Arunachal Pradesh, Mupa-Lanteng Forest Reserve, Manas Tiger Reserve, & Kaziranga Tiger Reserve in  Assam, the National Chambal River Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, National Chambal River Sanctuary & Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary & Sarnath Turtle Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, Bherihari Wildlife Sanctuary in  Bihar, and Dibru-Saikhowa.

The Indian peacock softshell is listed as Endangered in the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species is also listed in CITES I. This prohibits all international commercial trade of the Indian peacock softshell. The turtle is also listed in Schedule I of the WLPA.

Indian peacock softshell is collected for consumption. The turtle is also collected for illegal international trade. Additionally, habitat degradation and destruction have threatened the existence of the species.

20. Leith’s Softshell Turtle

Leith's Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii) on a very large leaf taken by Anagha Devi
A Leith’s Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii) on a very large leaf taken by Anagha Devi. – Source
  • Family: Trionychidae 
  • Scientific Name: Nilssonia leithii
  • Common Names: parisal aamai (Tamil), pale poo (Kannada), Nadi tabelu (Telugu)
  • Max Shell Length: 25 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule IV on the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

Leith’s softshell is a large turtle endemic to India. This turtle can reach lengths of 28 inches. This turtle can be found in large reservoirs and large river systems within Peninsular India. 

Leith’s softshell has a flattened carapace which is olive-gray in coloration. The carapace features yellow spots that are quite visible in juveniles. The plastron is cream in coloration. 

The species occurs in Nagarjuna Sagar National Park in Andhra Pradesh and Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary & Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu.

Leith’s softshell is listed as Critically Endangered in the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species is also listed in the CITES Appendix II since 2013, which means that international trade of the species is monitored.

The species is also included in Schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. This means that a small game hunting license is needed to collect/hunt specimens.

The main threat that Leith’s softshell faces is the exploitation for consumption and trade. 

21. Cochin Forest Cane Turtle

Cane Turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica) on wet leaves near Muthanmudi View Point, Kerala, India
A Cane Turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica) on wet leaves near Muthanmudi View Point, Kerala, Indiai. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Vijayachelys silvatica
  • Common Names: battadh (Kannada), vengal aamai (Tamil)
  • Max Shell Length: 5.1 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Endangered on IUCN Red List

The Cochin Forest cane turtle is an endangered species found in India. This turtle is a terrestrial species and can be found in the forest undergrowth. This species is a small turtle and reaches a length of just 5.1 inches.

In Kerala, the Cochin Forest cane turtle can be found in  Aralam, Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary, Neyyar, Peppara, Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Kothayal Forest Reserve. In Tamil Nadu, the Cochin Forest cane turtle can also be found in Indira Gandhi Wildlife Reserve, Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, and Karian-Shola National Park.

The Cochin Forest cane turtle has a flattened carapace which is brown in coloration. The plastron is yellow. The limbs and tail are brown or black in coloration. The turtle has a hooked jaw. This species can be identified by its large eyes that have red irises and black pupils. The snout also has a red spot on it. 

The turtle is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Cochin Forest cane turtle is listed under CITES Appendix  II as of 2013.

The turtle is also protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Act. The threats to V. silvatica wild populations are deforestation caused by agricultural activities, lumbering, and wildfires.

Forest wildfires are particularly a significant threat to the turtle’s populations. The construction of hydroelectric dams also threatens the wild populations. 

22. Indian Roofed Turtle

Indian Roofed Turtle (Pangshura tecta) climbing onto a log out of water at Chandra Shekhar Azad Bird Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India
AN Indian Roofed Turtle (Pangshura tecta) climbing onto a log out of water at Chandra Shekhar Azad Bird Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Pangshura tecta
  • Common Names: pachera, chandan kachua, pachauri (Hindi), kori katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length:  9 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Vulnerable on IUCN Red List

 P. tecta is a moderately sized turtle that can reach a carapace length of 9 inches. This turtle is aquatic and can be found in slow-moving water bodies.

The turtle has an elevated carapace that has flat sides and a keel. The carapace is brown in coloration and the plastron is pink/yellow with dark blotches. The feet are webbed. The turtle can be identified by the crescent pattern near the eye. 

The species can be found in slow-moving water such as small rivers, ponds, and pools. They can also occasionally be found in large rivers.

The turtle is endemic to Sundarban Tiger Reserve in West Bengal, Orang Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park in Assam, Corbett Tiger Reserve and Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, and Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan.

Pangshura tecta is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable. Wild population numbers are decreasing.  P. tecta is also listed in the CITES Appendix I.

This prohibits all international trade of the species. This has however not stopped the increase in trade of this turtle for traditional medicine. Also, P. tecta is listed in Schedule 1 of the WLPA (Indian Wildlife Protection Act).

Threats to P. tecta include collection for consumption locally. A small number is collected for food as this is a small turtle.

The small nature however means that they are collected for the pet trade. They are also collected for the traditional medicine trade. This collection is on the increase. 

23. Crowned River Turtle

Crowned River Turtle (Hardella thurjii) behind a white background taken by James F. Parham
A Crowned River Turtle (Hardella thurjii) behind a white background taken by James F. Parham. – Source
  • Family: Geoemydidae
  • Scientific Name: Hardella thurjii
  • Common Names: kala dhond (Hindi), kali / kalo katha (Bengali)
  • Max Shell Length: 24 inches
  • Conservation Status: Schedule III of the Punjab Wildlife Act, Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, Endangered on IUCN Red List

The crowned river turtle is another turtle endemic to India. This turtle gets its given name from the yellow stripes on the side of the head. This makes it look as if the turtle is crowned. 

The crowned river turtle is a large freshwater turtle that is capable of reaching lengths of 24 inches, which is 2 feet. This giant has four yellow stripes on each side of the head.

The carapace isn’t domed and is quite flat with a disjointed vertebral keel. The carapace is dark in coloration – dark brown. The plastron is yellowish in color with black blotches. 

This turtle is known to inhibit slow-moving aquatic bodies such as slow-moving rivers, lakes, canals, ponds, and pools.

The turtle is endemic to Harike Lake in Punjab, Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, and Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh, Kanha National Park and Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, and Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

Hardella thurjii is an endangered species. This species holds an IUCN Red List Assessment of Endangered. It is also listed in the CITES Appendix II.

However, it is included in Schedule I of the WLPA (Indian Wildlife Protection Act). It is also listed under Schedule III of the Punjab Wildlife Act. 

Main threats to the wild populations include collection for consumption and export and habitat loss due to the conversion of its habitats to agricultural lands.  Fisheries bycatch is another major threat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you keep a turtle as a pet in India?

Yes, you can. There are several turtle species you can keep as pets although not all. It is important to do your research before keeping a turtle as a pet. Turtles require large aquatic setups which are expensive and usually require a lot of space.

Can you collect or hunt wild turtles in India?

This depends on the species in question. For some species, you may need a permit or license. These include turtles that are listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act. |In this article, species listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act are noted in the description of the species.

Are Indian turtles dangerous?

Many softshell turtles can cause serious injuries such as lacerations with their bites. However, the main danger comes from salmonella infections. All turtles carry the bacteria salmonella. When ingested, this bacteria can cause salmonella infection. 

While this infection is innocuous for most people, it can be deadly to people with compromised immune systems, children, and the elderly. It is essential to wash your hands thoroughly after handling any turtle including species endemic to India. 

Can you keep an Indian turtle as a pet if you live outside India?

This is a tricky subject as it depends on several factors. In many states such as North Dakota, it is prohibited to keep an endangered turtle as a pet and many of India’s turtles are endangered. Also, many of the turtles of India are listed under Cites II and I which prohibit the trade of wild specimens. 

If you wish to keep an Indian turtle as a pet, a specimen bred in the United States or your country of residence is advisable. Also, ensure that ownership of the species is allowed in your country or state. 

Conclusion

India is among the largest countries in the world. As such, India is home to diverse wildlife. Part of this wildlife is the Order Testudines (turtles), which India has a large number of. In all, there are over 20 turtles in India.

The number is believed to be as high as 27 although this number includes land tortoises and sea turtles that can be found in the oceans of India. 

In terms of turtles found on the mainland, there are about 20. Most of these turtles are either endangered or critically endangered. As such, many of these species are protected by national and international laws, and keeping them as pets is prohibited.

If you have any extra information or questions about turtles in India, kindly leave a comment.

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