Private Land Purchase Expands Protection for Endemic Bolson Tortoises

Alyssa Wiltse-Ahmad

Dec 5, 2017

NewsProtected Areas

Rainforest Trust and partners Habio, A.C. and the Turtle Conservancy have purchased the 43,243-acre privately-owned Rancho San Ignacio to establish the Mexican Bolson Tortoise Preserve, a key site that falls within the globally recognized Mapimi Biosphere Reserve. Its flat desert floor is punctuated by a series of small mountains and hosts a globally important Bolson Tortoise population that was under extreme threat from habitat loss, encroachment from cattle herders and industrial-scale agriculture.

  • Bolson Tortoises are considered Vulnerable by the IUCN. Photo by Maurice Rodrigues/ Turtle Conservancy.

Designated in 1977, the Mapimi Biosphere Reserve aimed to highlight the importance of both the Bolson Tortoise and the unique remnant of the Chihuahuan Desert grassland ecosystem that it occupies. The area is not only important for the Bolson Tortoise, but also 200 species of birds, 39 reptiles, 28 mammals and five amphibians. This area was among the first biosphere reserves designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Latin America. Unlike formal protected areas, UNESCO sites represent an area of global significance and often do not come with specific legal protection. For this reason, many Biosphere Reserves are provided additional legal protection. In the case of the Mapimi Biosphere Reserve, the aim was to add to the global recognition by ensuring a core, fully protected area at the center of the reserve, thereby providing a global stronghold for the tortoise.

  • The Mexico Bolson Tortoise Preserve offers over 40,000 acres of protection to Bolson Tortoises. Photo by Max Maurer/Turtle Conservancy.
The Bolson Tortoise is the largest tortoise species in North America and can grow to be around 18 inches in length. Based on the fossil record, its range once extended as far north as south-western Arizona and Oklahoma in the U.S., but today the most significant populations are limited to an area around the new Mexican Bolson Tortoise Preserve and broader Mapimi Biosphere Reserve. While the Bolson Tortoise population within the limits of the reserve is recovering from drastic exploitation in the mid-20th century, it is still threatened throughout the rest of its range.

“The Bolson Tortoise really is an incredible species, and being able to contribute to its survival is very important to us at Rainforest Trust,”

said James Lewis, Rainforest Trust Director of Conservation Programs. “The Bolson Tortoise clearly would have had a significant impact on the ecosystems that it lived within, and hopefully we will slowly see this positive impact return as populations grow in the Bolson Tortoise Preserve and slowly spill out into the broader Biosphere Reserve. As is key with so many of the protected areas that Rainforest Trust helps to create, the Bolson Tortoise Preserve will be managed in such a way that ensures its long term success by working alongside local institutions and communities.”

The support of our generous friends around the world and the SAVES Challenge made this project a success. A special thank you to Rainforest Trust Board Member Eric Goode for his leadership gift.

For more information on how you can support Rainforest Trust, visit our Conservation Action Fund.