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The new life of the Hermann’s tortoise

With Endesa we support the conservation of the Mediterranean turtle population. An endangered species found in the region of Les Garrigues (Lleida).

Image of a Meditarrean Tortoise

There is evidence to suggest that the species existed during the Neolithic period. The Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) also features in Greek mythology, which tells how Hermes made his lyre from the empty shell of this species. The remains found in Pompeii confirm that these reptiles were kept as pets in Roman times and now, in the 21st century, the Testudo hermanni is classified as “endangered”.

Oddly enough, this species has one of the smallest geographical distributions in Western Europe. Within the Iberian Peninsula, Catalonia is the only area in which these tortoises can be found living in the wild… and they are few and far between. Numerous attempts at getting them to develop and reproduce in a certain area have been relatively unsuccessful.

“There are currently more tortoises in captivity than in the wild. Many people keep them in enclosed patios and feed and take care of them for breeding. Therefore, when they are released into an open space, as they are used to being fed and sheltered, the outcome is not favourable. The result is dispersal. They are not able to create a breeding nucleus.” Jesús Almarza is the Technical Director of Trenca, an association dedicated to the defence and conservation of fauna, especially in the region of Les Garrigues (Lleida).

“The Hermann’s tortoise is a species in danger of extinction, hence the need to establish a population that can reproduce in a semi-captive environment”

Jesús Almarza, Technical Director of Trenca

Trenca is responsible for a project aimed at creating a colony of Hermann’s tortoises that can live in this area in a semi-captive environment in which the tortoises can reproduce, and therefore recover the species without having to release the animals on a permanent basis. This project has already been put in motion and Endesa’s involvement is active and ongoing, by financing the work of technical experts in biodiversity conservation. “The first thing Endesa’s experts did was visit the area to define the work required to create the perfect habitat for the tortoises”, recalls Almarza.

This work, which was required in order to create a population of tortoises in a semi-captive environment, was carried out in a group of rural properties, covering an area of around 20 hectares managed by Trenca in Valle Mayor de Bovera (Lleida). Two ponds (400 and 100 square metres, respectively) were built and waterproofed with compacted clay. Fencing systems and double enclosures were also installed in the properties. The idea was to protect them insofar as possible from predators such as boars or foxes, enabling them to live in the wild, although closely monitored.

 

The release of the tortoises, a resounding success

22 June 2016. In collaboration with CRARC (Catalan Centre for Recovery of Amphibians and Reptiles) and with the assistance of volunteers, 52 Hermann’s tortoises were released. They all had a chip inserted in their shell to identify them, which allows permanent control and supervision.

Volunteers releasing around fifty Hermann’s tortoises in Les Garrigues (Lleida)
Volunteers releasing around fifty Hermann’s tortoises in Les Garrigues (Lleida)

The aim of this initial phase was for the tortoises to adapt to the new environment, basically controlling their presence on the property. But we achieved more than this, when the first egg laying activity was identified, which unfortunately was not successful, as the eggs were probably preyed on by predators. However, at the beginning of spring 2017, a baby Mediterranean tortoise was found on the property. “This often occurs during the initial egg laying activity, but we hope to see many more throughout 2017”, the manager at Trenca told us.

Throughout 2017, 52 specimens of Mediterranean tortoises released in 2016 have been tracked and the way they have adapted to their new environment has been monitored and the necessary maintenance tasks have been carried out on the property where the recently reintroduced population live in semi-freedom. Monitoring the population has also enabled us to identify male and female specimens coming together during the mating period.

“Our challenge is to work towards preventing the extinction of this species. Campaigning for the recovery of fauna is not new to us; it is our raison d’être”

These details indicate that the project, to date, has been a resounding success; the tortoises have adapted to the environment and have begun to fulfil one of the project’s most important targets: for the population recently reintroduced into the property to become a new reproduction nucleus for this species, which, in time, will enable existing populations of unconnected Mediterranean tortoises to be connected.

The Testudo hermanni project continues. In September 2017, another 30 specimens provided by the CRAC (Recovery centre for amphibians in Catalonia), were released. The idea is that, as the chelonians successfully breed, the young can gradually leave the environment to create other populations and this experience can even be exported to other points of Spain in the future.

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