RELEASE DAY FOR RED-FOOTED TORTOISES IN DEFORSA
Friday 18 of July, 57 red-footed tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonaria) were released in the forest area of DEFORSA. They were held in captivity by Mr. Miguel Mieres in a very small area, in his opinion to protect or conserve the species. The activity was carried out in the afternoon by volunteer BIOworkers and it made possible for them to interact with nature, with co-workers from different departments and to break up the everyday office routines.
Different studies indicate that red-footed tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonaria) is one of the most targeted species for illegal intensive hunting although it was declared a conservation dependent species in 1979. Its indefinite ban was established according to decree N. 95 released by the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (MARNR). It is also included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and fauna (CITES) of which Venezuela is a signatory since 1978.
Some studies state that red-footed tortoises are omnivorous, hence they eat everything (a wide assortment of plants, fruit, grasses, flowers, fungi, invertebrates, carrion). Apparently, they reproduce once a year at the beginning of rains. They have terrestrial habits and are found in forests and Savannah, widely found in all the Venezuelan territory and more abundantly in Guayana. They prefer low and medium vegetation areas with holes, hummocks and rocks as shelter.
Their legs are remarkable, they remind us the elephant’s because they do not have differentiated external toes and the nails are barely seen. As the rest of turtoises or quelonios of the world, red-footed tortoises have a hard shell or carapace formed by bones covered with a hard layer similar to the material of our nails. This exosqueleton covers their viscera and protects them completely.
According to an analysis made by the biologist Omar Hernández about the reproduction and growth of the red-footed tortoise, in the Imataca zone this reptile species is in the first place of capture of wild fauna for human consumption, both in indigenous communities and in rural communities, and the rest of the country. Besides, there is a strong tradition for its meat consumption during the Holy week.
In this sense, Stefan Gorzula and Glenda Medina, also scientists, stated that in Bolivar state Northern savannah, this species is virtually extinct mainly because of the strong intensive hunt exercised basically by indigenous, miners and lumberers.
This, in part, is a consequence of the possibility of keeping them alive in captivity in simple cages until they are required for human consumption. For some centuries the catholic church decreed that both red-footed tortoises and capiparas (Hydrochaeris hydroochaeris) were fish. “There is an illegal hunt and traffic to supply the local market”.
To preserve it, it is necessary to carry out programs of handling and conservation of the wild fauna. They will be successful to the extent they are accepted by the society and that will depend on the mental image that people have about this problem and not necessarily on the “scientific reality” perceived by experts. Hence, they suggest to assess both the positive and the negative attitudes of people towards the wild fauna since “it could help in the planning of conservation and handleling”. In the same way, they suggest to keep doing these journals of re-introduction of species into their natural habitat.