Rainforest Trust would like to celebrate this World Turtle Day by highlighting the recently expanded Geometric Tortoise Preserve and our long-time partner South African Tortoise Conservation Trust (SATCT). The hard work and dedication of SATCT staff, many of whom serve as Rainforest Trust Guardians, make the ongoing protection of tortoise habitat possible. The preserve is home to 25% of the remaining species population.
In 2015, we worked with SATCT to designate the 810-acre Geometric Tortoise Preserve to safeguard shrubland for the Critically Endangered Geometric Tortoise. Before the preserve was created, nearly 95% of the species’ habitat was lost to metropolitan development and agricultural encroachment from ranches and vineyards. This land transformation left the Geometric Tortoise population dwindling at fewer than 1,000 individuals. Both the species and land would have continued to degrade without protection. So Rainforest Trust supported the founding of the preserve, and this month, we helped SATCT expand the protected area by an additional 49 acres.
The newly expanded preserve requires a large amount of maintenance from staff. Invasive tree species often make their way into the habitat, which is detrimental to native plants and wildlife that rely on them. Hermanus van der Ross and the other Rainforest Trust Guardians commit their time to clearing these trees and their seeds before the rainy season, which allows for the region’s natural vegetation to thrive. “We burned the alien trees after cleaning them from the habitat. That way, when the rainy season starts, the Fynbos starts to come back and grow,” said Ross.
A significant portion of the unique Fynbos ecosystem lies within the preserve. The Fynbos is small lush belt of shrubland that sits on the Western and Eastern capes of South Africa. Known for its exceptional biodiversity, it is home to many rare and threatened plant species and other wildlife. Over 9,000 plant species live in the Fynbos and more than two-thirds of them are found nowhere else on Earth. Less than half of the original Fynbos remains intact today, making the preserve and the people who work to protect it crucial to ecosystem survival.
Guardian Pieter Jack is passionate about conservation in the area and maintaining it for years to come. “It makes me proud to help in conservation and to protect the tortoises and field,” said Jack. “We had to see that this area must be managed and the flora and fauna must be protected for the next generation.”
A collection of photos from the Geometric Tortoise Preserve. Photos by SATCT.
Header image: A Geometric Tortoise on the preserve.