CapeNature racing to save rare tortoise

2012-03-15 22:35

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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  • Tim - 2012-03-16 06:50

    whay are they kept in an area where one fire can wipe out 80% of the species? CATH A WAKE IDIOTS AT CAPE NATURE

      Michael - 2012-03-16 07:00

      Tim, its the only habitat suitable for this species. They were not moved there, its where they naturally occur. They cannot survive in the wild elsewhere.

      arne.verhoef - 2012-03-16 07:46

      Do you have any knowledge of ecology, or endangered species management? If not, shut it.

  • Lanfear - 2012-03-16 09:14

    Good to know somebody is trying to do something. Always makes me wonder though, why are people clamouring to save the cuddlies and beauties [such as rhinos, whales, pandas] but conveniently forget about all the fuglies such as reptiles, insect species, etc.?

  • Shaun - 2012-03-29 09:57

    Shame these poor guys are really beautiful. Tim, these tortoises are adapted to natural fires, however this fire came over the mountain too quikly and they only have this small piece of rhenosterveld (of which 80% burned) from which they can't escape because of fences. Cape Nature is now hoping that some of their buried eggs survived and will hatch, but it is not yet known if the geometric tortoise evolved this fire evading strategy. There is probably a good chance though as many fynbos species use this strategy.

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