Dozens of turtles leave Europe for Africa, the land of their ancestors, to save them from extinction

Agence France-Presse:

About 50 African Sulcata tortoises have been discovered near Dakar, the African soil that was originally home to their ancestors.

Carefully pulled from boxes in which they have traveled since Saturday, first by land and then by air, the 46 turtles took a few minutes on Tuesday before they popped their heads out of their palm-sized shell.

Then she carefully stretched out her legs on the scorching dirt of the village of Turtles in the Noflay region, 35 kilometers from the Senegalese capital.

It was a great shock for these little animals. Just a week ago, she was living on Turtle Island, a space created especially for her on the panoramic balcony of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. It saw the light there no more than eight years ago, meaning that it is still in its infancy, given that the expected life span of turtles exceeds 100 years and its weight also exceeds 100 kilograms.

In Nofly, to maintain its rank as the third largest land turtle after the Galapagos tortoise and those native to the Seychelles Islands, these tortoises will have to regain their instinctive behavior and search for their own food away from lettuce, eating greens and even carrion.

Olivier Brunel, head of the aquarium at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, explains that these activities, which were impossible for these turtles in the European principality, were of vital importance to their ancestors.

Mothers and fathers of turtles stayed in Monaco, six animals of the type “Centrochelis sulcata” that were presented to Prince Albert II in 2011 by President Amadou Toumani Toure during a visit to Mali, which borders Senegal in the Sahel region.

The Monaco Ocean Institute has entrusted the 46 young turtles with the task of participating in enhancing the Sudanese turtle population.

This type of turtle is rooted in the African Sahel, a vast semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert that crosses Africa from east to west, and is threatened with extinction, as only “a maximum of 150 animals” remain in nature in Senegal, according to Thomas Dayan, director of the African Institute for Studies. Turtles and Conservation, a participating body in the project.

The numbers of these turtles are declining due to the attacks of predators, including hyenas and jackals, but also due to the destruction of their natural habitats, overgrazing and international trade in them. They often end up as pets.

– Tharwa for export –

Dayan warns that “if no effort is made urgently and constructively, in the next thirty years, this species will disappear from the Senegalese landscape, and its presence will be limited to private homes and farms.”

He points out that the situation is “not reassuring” in general for all African and Senegalese races, both terrestrial and marine.

“If I were a tortoise, I wouldn’t want to be born or live in West Africa, or simply Africa.”

But this reality will be faced by the 46 pioneer turtles, who were carefully transported from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport on an Air France flight between Paris and Dakar, and were warmed inside the plane at a temperature of 23 degrees Celsius, according to the plane’s captain, Francois Charavan.

In Noflay, the turtles were placed in a special shelter in which they will be quarantined, and in which they will begin a journey that will last for several months, with the aim of “re-learning the basic rules of life in the wild,” according to Dayan.

It will then be transferred to a reserve in northwest Senegal, near the Sahel region.

“These are tortoises born in Monaco from animals from Africa, and they have had the opportunity to return to their ancestral land. African livestock is often destined for export… It is very rare for it to return to its original land,” Diane explains.