Gea Chelonia Foundation: Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria: width=

 

GEA   CHELONIA   FOUNDATION

Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria

 

 

 

Gea Chelonia Foundation: Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria

Activities

 

Scientific studies

 

Irakli

The natural characteristics of the area in which the Centre is located are favorable for carrying out studies of the natural history of both tortoise species. Of significance is the comparison of observations in nature with those of specimens kept in enclosures adjacent to and partially replicating the natural habitat.

 

Eminska Mountain, common view

 

 

Monitoring the natural population

 

Tortoise photo data base

As of this writing (09.2008), observations among the natural population in the region were completed on the following parameters: population structure, sex ratio, territorial behavior, daily and seasonal activity cycles including hibernation, all aspects of reproduction including mating, nesting, incubation and hatching, growth including ontogenetic allometry and anomalous morphology, natural threats to tortoise survival, traditional and current human impacts on tortoises, and habitat variability.

Long-term observations of a natural population composed largely of T. h. boettgeri on Eminska Mountain are not only of scientific value, but will assist in the creation of more successful strategies for tortoise conservation in Bulgaria.

 

 

Conservation measures

 

Testudo hermanni hatchling

An ongoing goal is to continue research on the density and interspecific interactions and niche partitioning within the tortoise population of Eminska Mountain, so as to determine factors crucial for tortoise survival here. Such research may yield increased legal protection for the region under the auspices of the Bulgarian government. Tortoise populations along Bulgaria's Black Sea littoral are under attack from rampant real estate development, and the location of the only Tortoise Centre in the country brings this accelerating threat into sharp focus. All the factors above highlight the importance of Eminska Mountain for continuing tortoise research for the preservation of both species in the region and throughout the country. Our vision is that priority conservation measures must be carried out where there is the certainty of stable, ongoing nature protection.

 

 

Maintaining data base

 

GIS data

Systematization and visualization of the collected data have been achieved using GIS technology and MapInfo software. The database contains georeferenced data for every one of the marked specimen from the Eminska Mountain population: species, sex, size, estimated age, weight, distinguishing marks etc. Subsequently, as the area has become a part of the Natura 2000 network, the GIS technology was enlarged by the addition of new layers of specialized information: topography, vegetation, geomorphology, geology, etc.

 

 

 

Captive breeding

 

Captive bred tortoises

One aspect of the mission is the rehabilitation and captive breeding of tortoises for carefully supervised reintroduction. Sources include captive bred animals, those confiscated by the official authorities, and donated or rescued tortoises. Since 2003 we have hatched hundreds of tortoises of both species in the centre.

In 2006, the first group of three year-old tortoises were released in the Irakli Protected Area. These consisted of 74 T. hermani and 37 T. graeca hatched at and raised by the centre. The liberated tortoises include roughly equal numbers of those incubated naturally in the nest, and those incubated artificially. Since 2002, hundreds of former captive or injured tortoises have passed through the centre, and nearly all of them have been restored to living again in the wild.

 

 

 

Due to its activities, the Centre has attracted the public's interest. Improvised lectures on tortoise conservation and natural history are presented to visitors, accompanied by photographic and video materials. Children are a special focus of these presentations, because the future of nature preservation lies with the next generation. The dissemination of educational material locally and display of posters has already attracted significant attention from the regional community.