CapeNature racing to save rare tortoise

2012-03-15 22:35
A researcher works to save the rare geometric tortoise. (CapeNature)

A researcher works to save the rare geometric tortoise. (CapeNature)

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Cape Town - CapeNature is racing to save rare tortoises following a fire near Wellington that decimated the species.

In January, a fire destroyed about 80% of the habitat of the geometric tortoise which is an extremely endangered species found only in the Western Cape.

"By studying their reproduction, we will learn a lot about how these animals respond to such extreme events, and this will help us in planning our strategy on how to maximise their survival," said Professor Margaretha Hofmeyr, of UWC's biodiversity and conservation biology department.

The tortoises were thought to be extinct after the last died out in the 1960s in Cape Town, but a small population was discovered in 1972.

"Geometric tortoises are the only one of South Africa's twelve land tortoises which may face extinction. Although all tortoise species of South Africa are protected by law, this does not automatically protect them from the threats of their disappearing habitat," said Dr Ernst Baard, CapeNature's head of scientific services.

The tortoise is protected by law and a few survive on farms in the Swartland and Upper Breede River Valley. The majority of its habitat has been covered by wheat and wine farms.

Following the fire, about 60 tortoises are being kept at a secret location and are regularly monitored to ensure their health.

Hofmeyr and Baard want funding to extract tortoise hatchings from the veld to ensure their survival, to create detailed maps of the Elandsberg Nature Reserve to determine the location of tortoise populations, and to study the reproduction of the animals.


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