Gea Chelonia Foundation: Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria: width=



Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria





Gea Chelonia Foundation: Tortoise Conservation in Bulgaria

Tortoise centre


Led by his life-long passion for and interest in tortoises, and inspired by the national working group for the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Bulgaria in the context of the National Action Plan for the Protection of Land Tortoises,  in 2002 Ivo invested his own finances to launch a sanctuary and specialized “ex-situ” Centre for tortoises. As stated, the main goals include research into the natural history of both species, restoration and stabilization of populations of the Eastern Balkan Range through the reintroduction program of captive-bred, and confiscated specimens, the rescue of tortoises from sites slated for destruction for so-called development, rehabilitation of sick and injured specimens, and publicity regarding protection of tortoises and their habitats. The Centre was officially approved by the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water in 2007. It is situated on private property in Banya village,  Burgas District, in the eastern part of Eminska Mountain  approximately 8 kilometers inland from Cape Emine. The location is ideal for these purposes, as both species of tortoises are naturally present. Due to its location on a south-facing slope at 180m elevation on the outskirts of the village, it is naturally isolated from human presence, but well protected from wild and domestic animals.


Центърът в с. Баня

The Visitor Centre

A suitable indoor facility is used for controlled hibernation of young and unfit specimens, which require that their condition be regularly checked. During the active season the same facility is used for keeping young and sick tortoises overnight or during unfavorable weather,  or for medical treatment and other such occasions as needed. Housing conditions of hatchlings and juveniles up to the age of three years are close to natural ones, but with added safety measures - small enclosures covered with safety nets to prevent predation.

The Centre’s land is partially divided into enclosures for the separation of species, and males from females, as well as for other occasions when separation is necessary. Enclosures are provided with natural and artificial hiding places, and are observed daily. There is adequate living space in which natural food items like those in the wild are available to the tortoises. Fresh water is made available on a daily basis, and special care, when necessary, is provided. In such artificial conditions, tortoises  reproduce and overwinter successfully, with minimal human intervention.

In Bulgaria and surely elsewhere, great numbers of tortoises are often released at an inappropriate time of year and/or in inappropriate habitats following their confiscation or voluntary donation to authorities.  Often they are in poor physical condition, and their release will lead to certain death. Unfortunately, officials in Bulgaria responsible for such activities lack adequately trained staff.

One of the goals of the Centre is to diminish this problem by providing the physical evaluation of each rescued tortoise, and subsequent treatment when necessary prior to release.  Incorrect husbandry practices often result in injuries, poor health, excessive parasite load, etc.  Often such debilitated or damaged tortoises can be rehabilitated and included in the captive breeding program, if there is reason not to release them.

All  tortoises released are first marked according to established field techniques, and important data on each specimen is stored in the Centre’s data base. Captive-bred tortoises are released into suitable areas after having attained three years of age, when they are relatively safe from predation, and when sex determination is usually possible.  If the source or the region where the specimen had been taken from the wild remains unknown, it is released in a carefully selected area enjoying protected status, and where tortoise populations need restoration and stabilization. The Centre's activities are unmatched in Bulgaria, but are inadequate in the face of the overwhelming challenge.



Програми за костенурки

Spur-tailed tortoise (Testudo hermanni)

Juvenile tortoises' enclosure

Програми за костенурки

Marked male tortoise equiped with radio-transmitter