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Preserve Expanded for Critically Endangered Tortoises

The Geometric Tortoise, native to South Africa’s Western Cape, is one of the world’s most striking tortoise species. Some people have even called it the “Fabergé egg” of tortoises. It’s also one of the world’s most endangered reptiles. Fewer than 1,000 individual tortoises remain in the wild.

Much of this decline has come from habitat loss. Expanding agriculture and urban areas have decimated almost 95% of the species habitat. Cape Town — one of the largest metropolitan areas in South Africa — is also in the Western Cape. That puts the ecosystem under immense pressure from Cape Town’s growth. In addition, vineyards and ranches cover much of the land near the preserve. Without conservation, this land would likely go towards the wine and cattle industries.

But Rainforest Trust and its local partner South Africa Tortoise Conservation Trust created the Geometric Tortoise Preserve to safeguard the species. And this month, the protected area grew by 49 acres through a land purchase.

The Geometric Tortoise Preserve. Photo courtesy of the Turtle Conservancy.

The preserve is home to the largest remaining Geometric Tortoise population on Earth. Scientists estimate the 15-25% of the entire species lives in this one protected area. But the preserve is also valuable for protecting parts of the greater Fynbos ecosystem. The Fynbos is home to many rare and threatened plant species and other wildlife. Over 9,000 plant species live in the Fynbos — and more than two-thirds of them live nowhere else on Earth. But less than half of the original Fynbos ecosystem remains intact.

The new land is being added to the Geometric Tortoise Preserve’s conservation management plan. The preserve manages the land to prevent wildfires and restore degraded habitat. Researchers are also monitoring tortoise populations to maintain an accurate picture of the species’s status.

“Expanding this reserve is vital to the future of the ornate Geometric Tortoise and the unique Fynbos ecosystem,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “With careful monitoring and management, I’m confident we’re on a path to protecting the tortoise and other endemic species of the Western Cape from extinction.”

This reserve was made possible through the support of the Rainforest Trust Conservation Action Fund, the SAVES Challenge and Rainforest Trust’s partners at The Turtle Conservancy.

A Geometric Tortoise found in the preserve. Photo courtesy of the Turtle Conservancy.

Header photo courtesy of the Turtle Conservancy.

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