In the famous Hare-Tortoise race fable, it is the tortoise that wins. This time around, there was no hare, and it wasn’t a race, but 46 tortoise winners, nonetheless. Double-winners, in fact, because they were able to fly in comfort, and the journey took far less time than the original 10-15-day Paris-Dakar rallye, back in the day.
So, the tortoise wins again – this time, thanks to Air France KLM Martinair Cargo working together with the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco to carry 46 African spurred tortoises to Senegal, in a dedicated effort to turn back the extinction threat.
Journey to the Motherland
The transport began on 10DEC22, when the tortoises made their way by road from Monaco to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, France. From there, they were loaded onto the plane on 12DEC22, and flown to Dakar, Senegal. Mathieu Fleisch, Vice President Product & Verticals for AFKLMP Cargo, commented: “Air France KLM Martinair Cargo is very sensitive to the protection of the environment and the preservation of endangered species. We were therefore delighted to join the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco in transferring the 46 African spurred tortoises to Senegal. We were proud to make our extensive network and our recognized expertise in the transport of live animals available for this operation.” Part of the transport preparation was spent designing and producing the six crates required to ensure species-appropriate transportation.
African parents gifted to Monaco
The maximum eight-year-old tortoises are all offspring of six originally Senegalese parent tortoises that were given to Prince Albert II of Monaco in 2011, by the former Senegalese president, Amadou Toumani Toure, and now residing at the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco. Having landed in Dakar, the tortoises were then taken to the 35-km distant Center for the Protection of Turtles in Senegal at the Village des Tortues in Noflaye, Senegal. This transport was the first part of a three-year program, which starts with a six-month quarantine in an observation enclosure at the Village des Tortue conservation center at the heart of the botanical reserve. Once the quarantine is over, the tortoises will again move – this time to the Koyli Alpha Nature Reserve in the northwest of the country, where they will remain under two-year observation, initially in a fenced off nature-reserve-area, tended to by trained staff who will focus on their growth and how they are adapting to their new environment. “They will then be released in the reserve managed by the association, in accordance with the recommendations and directives of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) within the framework of wildlife reintroduction operations,” the press release explains.
Education and awareness
Did you know that the Centrochelys sulcata or African spurred tortoise is actually the largest land-living tortoise, the world’s third-largest tortoise, and that it lives to be 150+ years, and feeds only on plants? That, though number three in world size rank, hatchlings are just 44 mm in length, and weigh about 40 grams. They grow very quickly to around 15-25 cm in the first few years – roughly the size the 46 travelling tortoises are, here. In captivity, their average lifespan is 54 years, and in the wild, something beyond 75 years. Average weights are around 80 kg (females 60 kg, males 100 kg). Alarming key fact, however: at best, there are currently around 150 of these extraordinary tortoises left living in the wild, and extinction is a very real threat in the next 30 years.
“Protecting animal species, both on land and at sea, and making them known to the general public is a major challenge for the future. By housing these spurred tortoises, now an endangered species, we have allowed them to reproduce while raising awareness among visitors of the need to protect them. The logical outcome was to work to boost the local wild populations,” says Robert Calcagno, Director General of the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco.
Fun fact 1 – The Biggest
The world’s largest tortoise ever recorded was a Galápagos giant tortoise – which is the biggest of the world’s tortoise species – called Goliath. He hatched in the Life Fellowship Bird Sanctuary in Seffner, Florida, USA, in 1960 – an institution specialized in breeding this tortoise type. By the time he passed away at a very tender age of 42 (his species average a 170-year life expectancy), he had grown to a length of 135.8 cm (4 ft 5 in) and weighed an impressive 417 kg (920 lbs.). From an air cargo perspective, a perfect, high-density shipment.
He was spared the fate of having to travel long-distance, however. Unlike his poor distant cousin, a century earlier: Tring 184, slightly smaller at 134 cm (4 ft 4 in) in length and a mere 318 kg (701 lbs.) in weight, was quietly living his best life in his native Chagos Archipelago, until an eccentric English animal collector, Lord Walter Rothschild, discovered him and had him shipped to Britain in 1897 – one of a number of giant tortoises he uprooted, initially holding them on the grounds of his own estate at Tring Park before moving them to London Zoo (where he deposited hundreds of animals over the years). Unfortunately, Tring 184 only lived for two more years in his new home at London Zoo, and it is not known how old he was when he died.
Fun Fact 2 – The furthest
At around 6000 km, the Monaco-Paris-Dakar is quite a journey for the young African spurred tortoises. However, a couple of Russian tortoises (averaging just 20-25cm in length when fully grown) undertook an even longer journey back in September 1968, when they became the first animals to fly to and around the moon. They also returned safely on the then Soviet Zond 5 mission.
Wishing the African spurred tortoises all the best for the next decades in their new, yet native, home!
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