WESTERN HERMANN'S TORTOISE IN CATALONIA

Western Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni) in Catalonia. State of conservation and recovery projects.
Joan Budó, Xavier Capalleras, Jenar Fèlix & Ramon Mascort
Centre de Reproducció de Tortugues de l'Albera.
Santuari del Camp. 17780 Garriguella (Catalunya)

International Congress on Testudo Genus.

Hyères, France.2001

The historical distribution

The species testudo has appeared in different paleontological excavations of Calalunya. Fossils of the pleistocene period have been found at Llers, Crespià and Montjuic (province of Girona), at the Massif of Garraf and within the city of Barcelona.
Exemples of sub-fossils of the testudo species were found at the paleolithic excavation site Cau del Duc (Torroella de Montgrí).
As for the historical period, testudo hermanni can be found in treaties on fauna and geography. There are also references from oral history and popular memory.
All these citations place the species in the coastal and off-coastal mountain ranges from the Pirinees to the Ebro Delta and therefore prove the existence of tortoise populations which since then, and above all throughout the twentieth century, have been extinguished.
Nowadays the only remaining autochthonous population of Mediterranean tortoise of the Iberian peninsula can be found in the range of l'Albera (foothills of the Eastern Pirinees).

The historical distribution of the Mediterranean tortoise within Catalonia.
* Paleontological excavation sites whith remains of the Testudo.

 

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The actual distribution and state of population

The las and only remaining autochthonous population of the Mediterranean tortoise of the Iberian Peninsula can be found at the southern end of the range of l'Albera (Eastern Pirinees).
The area of distribution of the species covers approximately 350 Km2 at an altitude of 100 to 400 metres above sea level. The habitat is characterized by typical Mediterranean woods and scrubs.
Since the 1980s the biology and ecology of the local tortoise, as well as the density and structures of its population and the sex ratio, are investigated in order to manage the conservation of the species.
Although in particular valleys the density can surpass 10 specimens per hectare, the total of the population is low, weakened above all by forest fires, expropriation of specimens and the modification and destruction of its habitat.
In order to protect the last population of the Mediterranean tortoise from extintion, since 1986 this area is protected as a natural park (Parc Natural de l'Albera), with a natural reserve included.


The facilities of the Reproduction Centre of the Tortoise of the Albera (CRT) serve of the breeding in captivity of the species to reinforce the natural population. Open to the public and specially schools, it also aims to function as an environmental education centre. The CRT coordinates the study, research and following of the mediterranean tortoise of the range of l'Albera.

Actual distribution of the Mediterranean tortoise within Catalonia: The range of l'Albera.

 

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Conservation and reintroduction projects

The Department of the Environment of the Catalan government coordinates the Program for the Reintroduction of the Mediterranean Tortoise in Catalunya. This program aims to maintain and strengthen the last autochthonous population in the range of the Albera and also to reintroduce the species in the areas of its historical distribution.

*Natural Park of the Delta de l'Ebre
With the specimens of a remaining population of the Montsià county and thanks to private donations, in 1987 the first group of 44 tortoises was introduced in a remote area of the Natural Park of the Ebro Delta, an area of coastal dunes and pine woods. Since then, and with new reinforcements, this population has adapted itself and reproduces normally.

*Natural Park of the Garraf
In 1993 specimens proceeding from breeding in captivity were reintroduced in this natural south of Barcelona. With new periodical releases, since then the population has increased, is adapting itself and reproducing again in this area.

*Natual Park of the Cap de Creus
The recurring forest fires of this area, especially in the last thirty years, have extinguished the remaining specimens of the Mediterranean tortoise. Currently a project of following released specimens equipped with transmitters is being concluded in order to study their adaptation. As of 2002, specimens born in captivity at the CRT will be reintroduced in this area.

Currents projects of conservation and reintroduction:
-Parc Natural de l'Albera
-Parc Natural del Cap de Creus
-Parc Natural del Garraf
-Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

 

Besides these, the Program for the Reintroduction of the Mediterranean Tortoise includes other projects of reintroduction in areas where the historical presence of the species has been proven.

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