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The rare turtle with the flat, smooth shell spends most of its time buried at the river bottom

Photo: Ayushi Jain/dpa

The Cantor's giant softshell turtle is one of the rarest turtle species in the world.

A research team has now succeeded not only in tracking down the animals, but also in accompanying them during breeding.

Villagers provided information about the freshwater turtles, which are up to one meter large, on the Chandragiri River in the Indian region of Kerala, the scientists report in the specialist magazine “Oryx”.

Cantor's giant softshell turtles (Pelochelys cantorii) are native to rivers in South and Southeast Asia.

Due to, among other things, the destruction of their habitat, they are classified as "threatened with extinction" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Accordingly, there is an extremely high risk of extinction in nature in the immediate future.

A nesting female has now been discovered at Chandragiri and eggs have been rescued from flooded nests.

The hatched young animals were later released into the river, the scientists report.

The local population played an important role in this.

The scientists conducted interviews in communities along the Chandragiri River.

These surveys allowed them to identify several locations where the species continues to occur and even discover the nesting sites.

To date, most of the knowledge about the turtle species has come from captive populations in China.

In previous surveys in India, no specimens were found in the wild, writes the team led by Veerappan Deepak from the Animal Science Museum of the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research in Dresden and Francoise Cavada-Blanco from the University of Portsmouth, Great Britain.

According to the scientists, this could also be due to the turtle's behavior being difficult to observe.

The animal spends most of its time buried on the river bottom with its flat, smooth shell, motionless, with only its eyes and mouth protruding from the sand.

It just shows up twice a day to take a breath.