About us

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The tortoise sanctuary with the visitor centre

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The Tortoise Centre is a life-long passion for tortoises of Ivo Ivanchev. In 2002 Ivo invested his own finances to launch a sanctuary and specialized “ex-situ” centre for tortoises. The main goals include research into the natural history of both species, restoration and stabilization of their populations through reintroduction, treatment and rehabilitation of injured and sick tortoises. The reintroduction program includes all received in the sanctuary tortoises – captive-bred, confiscated, rescueed from sites slated for destruction, sick and injured, kept as pets, and tortoises found in unappropriate places. The Tortoise 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 perfect for these purposes, as both species of tortoises are naturally represented. Due to its location on a south-facing slope on the outskirts of the village, it is naturally isolated from human presence, but well protected from wild and domestic animals.

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Permanent resident of the Tortoise sanctuary

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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.

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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 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. In such artificial conditions, tortoises reproduce and overwinter successfully, with minimal human intervention.

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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. 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.

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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.

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Who is Ivo Ivanchev?

Ivo Ivanchev was born December 23 rd 1970 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Musician by occupation, nowadays he is one of the most respectful chelonian experts in the country. Since his early age he was interested in wildlife and especially reptiles and amphibians. But the biggest passions of his life become turtles and tortoises. Along with his musical carrier he has devoted his life to chelonian conservation and research. In 2002 he moved to the Bulgarian black sea region and Banya village where he started actively researching the Hermann’s and Spur-thighed tortoise biology and ecology. Along with that he was working hard on his lifetime dream – to create a tortoise rescue and research centre, which to date is officially recognised by the government and the only one of its kind in the country. In 2007 he founded the Gea Chelonia Foundation. For quite many years he is a member of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Currently he lives and works together with his most close associates – his wife Iva and his two children in Banya. He has been guiding reptiles and amphibians watching tours since 2010.

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Ivo Ivanchev

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