Gea Chelonia Foundation: Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria: width=



Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria





Gea Chelonia Foundation: Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria



James Buskirk

Field associate in herpetology, California Academy of Sciences
Member since 1982, Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Species Group, IUCN



On September 10th, 2010 the Bulgarian Centre for Tortoise Research and Conservation was inaugurated at Banya, near the country's Black Sea coast. Largely the result of the unflagging energy and commitment of Ivo Ivanchev, who established the Gea Chelonia Foundation in 2007, the Centre is the first of its kind in the Balkan region. It is the culmination of Gea Chelonia's vision of publicizing the plight of Bulgaria's embattled land tortoises, Testudo graeca ibera and T. hermanni boettgeri , and safeguarding their habitat and hence survival as faunal elements. Both species had long been collected and slaughtered for human consumption until the practice was outlawed in 1981. Significant localized extirpation resulted along with decline elsewhere. Since democratization and increasing economic ties to the European Community in the 1990s, collection for the illegal pet trade and rampant habitat destruction for the sake of coastal resort construction and luxury condominiums have further decimated tortoise populations and obliterated their habitat.

Many of Bulgaria's leading field zoologists attended the inauguration along with members of the news media, regional government representatives and those of donor organizations, besides private donors and various guests. Already several indigenous tortoises in the Centre's vicinity are being monitored via radio-tracking, the first of such ongoing field research among tortoises in eastern Europe. The isolation and rehabilitation of former captives or "waifs" of unknown origin is an important but lesser function of the Centre, whose major goal is public education about tortoises. Countering established attitudes of apathy, if not antipathy, has involved the news media, meetings with community organizations, and outreach to schools. In future, guided tours of the Centre are planned.

The scope and goals of the Gea Chelonia Foundation exemplify what is meant by thinking globally, acting locally. Tortoise species nearly everywhere are losing ground, literally and figuratively, and here is a courageous testimony to dedication to nature conservation, through a focus on seemingly non-charismatic species. The tortoises of Bulgaria, while not actually endangered today, face a bleak future without the advocacy and active involvement of committed and well-informed individuals. The Tortoise Centre welcomes your support in whatever form it may take.