The Carapax centre, located in the Tuscan hills in Italy, created in 1989 with European funds, is aiming to protect and reproduce the last specimens of tortoises of the Mediterranean basin. The visitor centre of 15Ha with a nature reserve of 35Ha, has already succeeded in saving more than 10,000 reptiles and thousands of tortoises have been returned to their natural environment, whether in Tunisia, Morocco, France, Greece or Italy. Repatriation takes place thanks to the invaluable collaboration of Virgin Express.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND PUBLICATIONS.
At the CARAPAX biological station scientific research takes place in the fields of ecology, population dynamics, botany, veterinary research, ethology and genetics. After six years of investigation a pan Mediterranean genetic overview of the whole genus Testudo and related Testudinidae has been published with amazing results. (See A. C.van der Kuyl, D.Ballasina et al, Molecular Phyllogenetics and Evolution)
Anyone interested in this research can visit the scientific research site of CARAPAX www.carapax.org.
CARAPAX is completing the same research on DNA of the European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis) where six subspecies are being found. According to these data RANA (Reptiles et Amphibians de la Nature) has helped to build Europe's largest breeding and nursery facility for the European Pond Turtle at the Carapax Centre. This was accomplished with the help of more than 50 volunteers from Italy, Belgium, UK, Switzerland, Germany, France and Spain. Two breeding tunnels (named T3 and T4) were constructed containing 27 breeding ponds and a large nursery with 34 ponds. The ponds were constructed under the guidance of a Swiss and a Czech aquatic expert and sponsored by a Dutch-Belgian pond products manufacturer called UBBINK. This large structure completed the greenhouse already in existence for terrapins. The greenhouse, incidentally, was built in 1990 and financed one third by RANA, one third by SOPTOM and one third by THE BRITISH CHELONIA GROUP.
At present there are more than 500 European Pond Turtles living at the CARAPAX biological station and there are four reintroduction projects and sites running in Italy.
Of course, the genetic findings are extremely necessary for building a correct breeding and reintroduction strategy, as well as for setting priorities in habitat management and purchase throughout the Mediterranean.
CITES AND EXOTIC TERRAPINS.
The Cites regulations governing import and export of exotic terrapins, after having been far too relaxed for many years, have now become more restrictive. The consequences for CARAPAX are severe. More and more confiscated and abandoned chelonians arrive, with an increasing percentage of exotic species, making it difficult for CARAPAX to cope alone. In December 1997 at EU level the importation of Red-eared Terrapins (Trachemys scripta elegans), also called Sliders or Florida turtles,was finally halted. However, a great many of these creatures have been exported from the United States and found their way into European countries. Many people have abandoned the animals and dumped them into ponds and streams, also in the habitats of the European Pond Turtles. Even in ponds at the CARAPAX biological station they were occasionally found. It was therefore decided to launch a rescue facility near CARAPAX.
THE FLORIDA RESCUE FACILITY.
At the tenth anniversary of CARAPAX, in 1999, the Florida rescue facility was launched. A number of lakes were created especially with the Florida turtles (Red-eared Terrapins) in mind. The lakes were dug out in an area which is highly volcanic, keeping the water at a steady 24 degrees Celsius. The sexes were separated and stiff boards were introduced in order to prevent these terrapins from breeding. The high walls have attracted nesting Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis), Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and Sand martins (Riparia riparia). The lakes are double fenced and biologically filtered with empty ponds planted up with reed and water hyacinth.
The cost of maintenance of these animals for their lifetime is extremely low, much lower than it would cost more northern countries, who would need greenhouses and or conservatories and heatlamps or water heaters to keep these animals in an appropriate fashion. CARAPAX would be able to keep the contribution for the lifetime care of these animals very low indeed. Therefore, with the help of VIRGIN EXPRESS as a sponsor, a turtle airlift was set up. Hundreds of these Red-eared Terrapins, all individually marked with microchips and after having been in quarantine for the appropriate time and with a veterinary clean bill of health, were transported all from all over ITALY by the Italian public and authorities, by the World Wildlife Fund and the Italian ENPA Protection Society, from HOLLAND by the AAP Foundation and Stichting Tortoise (Tortoise Foundation), from BELGIUM by RANA and Veeweyde, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, from GERMANY, by the Animal Protection Society, from FRANCE by SOPTOM, the SPA and Chelonia.
NOW THE BRITISH CHELONIA GROUP CAN GET INVOLVED!
The BCG has, of course, their own Red-eared Terrapin Rescue and Education Centre (the RETEC in Somerset) and is negotiating another education centre in the Midlands. These centres, however, only take a limited amount of Red-cared Terrapins. The RETEC for instance, cares for about 50 animals and in spite of the ban on importation there are still many unwanted Red-ears that cannot be placed or are found abandoned in streams and ponds. A previous Newsletter has highlighted a similar problem with the Snapper Turtles. In the meantime, the BCG has built up a wealth of experience, we have many caring members, members with expertise in varied areas. It is hoped to conduct a similar operation to the Florida rescue facility. It will be called the LOUISIANA PROJECT, will host American terrapins and will also have facilities for all other American species. The UK based BORN FREE FOUNDATION will assist us with publicity and advice.
In the meantime, please keep your donations coming in. You can make a donation when you renew your membership form or you can send a separate donation by cheque or postal order to: The Membership Secretary BCG, P.O.Box 1460, Bedworth, CV12 9ZW Please make the cheque out to THE BRITISH CHELONIA GROUP and indicate you want the money to go to the Carapax Appeal. Your help is appreciated.