Wildlife experts have discovered the Impressed Tortoise also known as the Manouria impressa – a new species of tortoise that are elusive and have never been previously sighted in India – near Yazali of Lower Subansari district in Arunachal Pradesh, the Wildlife Conservation Society-India said in a press statement on Tuesday.

A male and a female species of the Impressed Tortoise were discovered in June 2019. This discovery has increased the total number to 29 species of non-marine chelonians and five tortoises in the country.

The animals were examined, marked and photographed before being released in their original habitats from where they were found. The survey team consisted of Bunty Tao and Bharat Bhushan Bhatt of Arunachal Forest Department, Shailendra Singh and Arpita Dutta from Turtle Survival Alliance/ Wildlife Conservation Society-India and Jayaditya Purkayastha from Help Earth, the statement said.

“Sighting say, a snake or an insect for the first time, is not such a big deal,” Purkayastha told The Indian Express. “But when it comes to turtles, you are dealing with one of the most threatened, under-studied animals of the world, whom no one pays attention to.”

Tortoises differ from turtles on account of being terrestrial animals. But it is common for conservationists to club the former with the latter for practical purposes.

The Impressed Tortoise measures one feet, and has a “brilliant spine” – bent upwards and beautifully serrated, Purkayastha said. “It’s a magnificent looking creature – impressive in colour and shape. That’s is why it’s called the Impressed Tortoise, in the first place.”

Previously, the little-known tortoise was believed to be restricted to western Myanmar, along with pockets of habitat in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and southern China, and south through Peninsular Malaysia. The species were last found in Gwa in Myanmar, where Wildlife Conservation Society is carrying out breeding aimed to conserve the endangered tortoise for reintroduction into the wild.

The statement said: “The latest sighting further raises the status of the country as well as the state in the list of strategic turtle conservation priority areas. With this, the future surveys can aim to focus near the area of occurrence and locations prioritized from interviews with locals from the area. This will lead to an ecologically viable population of the species in the area.”