It may be one of the slowest-moving conservation projects in history, not just because of the red tape, but due to the animals themselves: 40 red-footed tortoises are being released into El Impenetrable national park in Argentina in the coming weeks after being rescued from the illegal pet trade in Paraguay and transported to Argentina.
One of the larger tortoises in South America, the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonarius) was once found throughout three provinces of Argentina. But the last live tortoise spotted in the country was in the north-eastern province of Formosa in 2002. A shell was found in the same province, 40 miles (60km) from El Impenetrable, in 2016.
“In other parts of the Gran Chaco, in Paraguay and Bolivia, for example, it’s still a relatively common species,” says Sebastián Di Martino, conservation director of Rewilding Argentina. In Argentina, the consumption of its meat and the illegal pet trade are two of the key drivers of the tortoise’s demise, he adds.
“The widespread destruction of the Chaco forest, their habitat, is another cause. In fact, the last known population in Argentina lived in Formosa, where the forest was razed to plant soya beans.”
As new homes go, El Impenetrable, in northern Argentina, is spacious; it contains 128,000 hectares (317,00 acres) of protected reserve with dense native forest, grasslands and wetlands.
Lead Image: Red-footed tortoises are crucial for dispersing seeds around the Gran Chaco forest. Photograph: Courtesy of Rewilding Argentina.
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