From troubles to solutions: conservation of Mediterranean tortoises under global change
Chelonians are among the animal groups with the poorest conservation status. Since tortoises are long-lived species that need very long time to reach sexual maturity, they are extremely vulnerable to human pressure. Despite their endangered status, there are no common strategies for the development of conservation actions. At the “Mediterranean workshop to develop tortoise conservation strategies”, scientists, conservation associations, environmental managers, IUCN advisers and CITES inspectors met in October 2019 in Alicante (Spain). The aims were to update the diagnosis of the conservation status of the Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) and the spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) and to suggest strategies that guarantee their preservation at the Mediterranean Region. The main conclusions are summarized by:
i) Mediterranean tortoises are wild endangered species that must be protected in, and together with, their natural habitat. Their main threats are habitat loss and fragmentation and pet trade, but we should also pay attention to wildfires, spread of diseases, the introduction of exotic species or lineages and climate change.
ii) Long-term efforts and stablished protocols are needed to accurately diagnose and monitor the conservation status of wild populations, as well as flows among captive and wild animals.
iii) Tortoise trade should be banned because it threatens the conservation of wild populations of tortoises. Illegal practices related to tortoises should be decidedly persecuted. People should consider tortoises as wild animals that are endangered and deserving of protection. It is possible to enjoy them by responsibly observing them in their habitat.
iv) Tortoises may carry pathogens or parasites and their sanitary status cannot be fully assessed. They should always be considered potential vectors of tortoise diseases and of zoonosis. Hygiene protocols should be implemented when managing them.
v) The researchers attending this workshop aimed to develop a scientific network for the long-term monitoring of graeca and T. hermanni populations in the Mediterranean Region. They will need the support from public administrations.