17 March 2017

Seychelles' Juvenile Giant Tortoises Electronically Tagged to Deter Poachers

Trials to implant micro-chips on fist-sized giant tortoises are underway on Curieuse Island as the Seychelles National Park Authority (SNPA) implements new measures to prevent illegal trading of juvenile tortoises.

The small microchips, which are usually implanted in adults, are now being used on tortoises weighing not more than 100 grams and only a few inches long.

According to local turtle expert Jeanne Mortimer, these tags donated by the Parco Natura Viva - Garda Zoological Park in Italy have never been used on juvenile tortoises but does not inflict any harm on them.

With the rangers of SNPA and other conservation partners watching, 10 out of the 37 baby tortoises were injected with the grain-size electronic device last week.

"At five months or so the tortoises all look the same but using a scanner we can easily identify each of them individually," said Mortimer.

Curieuse, which became a National Park in 1979, has not had new juvenile giant tortoises for almost a year after thieves stole 23 out of 28 babies in July.

The remaining juveniles were pit-tagged individuals, which according to Mortimer has prevented them from being stolen too.

In the past five months, vigorous monitoring all over the island - where tortoises roam free and are more abundant than humans - has allowed authorities to collect the newborns. They are great attractions for day visitors on Curieuse, located only a few minutes away from Praslin, the second-most populated island of Seychelles.

With a life span of over 100 and a gigantic herbivorous appetite, one might think that giant tortoises are not on the top list of pets in Seychelles.

Yet, the attractions of having this reptile at a tourism establishment have made giant tortoises a must-have in the archipelago where tourism remains the main pillar of the economy.

At fist-size, a giant tortoise can be sold to private owners for about $200 to $400 while bigger ones are often given away.

The theft in July last year caused much discontent on Curieuse, which has one of the largest populations of giant tortoises in the country.

The case, which has not yet been solved, has taught Anto Suzette, the senior ranger responsible for the management of the National Park, to be more cautious

Suzette says officials have reinforced well-meshed cages where the babies are located and have increased vigilance during and after visiting hours.

"It is a shame that visitors have to see them through cages but if this means we have more tortoises in the future, then that's the way it will be."

Once a leper colony, currently there are 128 adult giant tortoises inhabiting Curieuse, and they all have been tagged as a means of reducing illegal trading.


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