Saving endangered tortoises in the Caucasus

These 38 one-year-old spur-thighed tortoises subspecies (testudo graeca nikolskii) were born in the enclosure of the rehabilitation center at Safari Park in 2014 and successfully survived the winter. The scheduled survey was combined with giving them a bath.Since 2004 with unfailing support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) the project “Attention! Tortoises!” has worked tirelessly to research, rescue and promote the conservation of spur-thighed tortoises (testudo graeca) in the Caucasus.

For more than 10 years we have partnered with Safari Park in Gelendzhik, Krasnodar Krai, where a rehabilitation center was established for spur-thighed tortoises transferred there by the local residents or confiscated from illegal trade.

At this time, 38 charming one-year-old little tortoises live there! If 2015 proves to be as successful as last year, we will start seriously preparing for release of the grown up tortoises back to the wild within 3-5 years.

Although geographically widespread, the species is listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Appendix II of the Berne Convention, the Red List of the Russian Federation and the regional Red-lists of the Krasnodar Krai and the Republic of Dagestan. According to assessment by leading experts the tortoise is a species of reptiles at the highest risk of extinction in the territory of the Russian Federation.

The main causes for population decline and for shrinking and fragmentation of the habitat of the spur-thighed tortoises is human-induced transformation and destruction of its habitat and illegal capture of the animals for the pet trade.

At Safari Park, newly arriving reptiles are quarantined and provided with veterinary care in case they need it. A long-nurtured dream of ours is the establishment of a fully-fledged center for keeping and breading testudo graeca nikolskii subspecies at the rehabilitation center under semi-free conditions.

The southern slope of the Markotkh Range, where Safari Park is situated, maintains a relatively large and stable population of these reptiles, which means conditions for them are quite beneficial. Similar centers exist in a number of countries and have a good track record as conservation and rehabilitation hubs for endangered species of tortoises. These centers ensure optimum conditions and most importantly protect the tortoises from predators during the first years of life, which increases their survival.

Young tortoises have a wonderful appetite, and in the first years of life they grow particularly fast. The larger a tortoise is the fewer natural predators it has.

Young tortoises are kept separately from adult ones in a special enclosure, which keeps them safe from any predators.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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