Herculean Effort to Save Critically Endangered Tortoise During Recent Fire

4 Mar 2024

In late January 2024, CapeNature was alerted to a fire in the vicinity of one of its stewardship partners, and also an area of concern for the critically endangered, geometric tortoise (Psammobates geometricus) according to IUCN Red List.

The geometric tortoise is listed as critically endangered because of habitat loss, poaching for the illegal pet trade industry, predation (including the invasive feral pig), overgrazing by domestic livestock, droughts, and wildfires.

The critically endangered geometric tortoise.

As a result of the extreme fire behaviour, trigger points were set, and a search and rescue plan were pre-emptively put together so that the best attempt and efforts could be put in to securing this population. Through the Cape Winelands District Municipality, CapeNature managed to arrange some volunteers from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA).

CapeNature and the NSPCA urgently made their way to site. Not only geometric tortoises were removed from the area, but all tortoises that came across the path of the search and rescue teams.

CapeNature and the NSPCA scouring the area looking for tortoises.

The teams were fortunate to find geometric tortoises, “padlopers” and angulate tortoises. The area was divided into transects and each team had a specific focus area. The tortoises were collected, measured, and grouped by species. From there, they were put in a safe area until the fire passed through the area. The landowner was also very progressive and watching the fire behaviour, undertook a third search and rescue as well which was undoubtedly beneficial to maintaining the population.

The teams were fortunate to find geometric tortoises, “padlopers” and angulate tortoises.

Unfortunately, despite all efforts to keep the fire at bay, it sadly reached an area inhabited by the geometric tortoise which resulted in fatalities which were seen when a post fire survey was undertaken.

Once the fire was contained, all tortoises were released back into their natural habitat.

Want to know more about the geometric tortoise? Read more about this critically endangered species here.


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