Three conservation organizations are pulling together to create a safer home for one of the world's rarest reptiles: the geometric tortoise (Psammobates geometricus). The Rainforest Trust along with the Turtle Conservancy and South African Turtle Conservation Trust (SATCT) recently created a new reserve known as the Geometric Tortoise Preserve. This protected area spans 212 acres of threatened shrubland habitat located in the Upper Breede Valley of western South Africa and is expected to provide a safe haven for the last and largest viable population of geometric tortoise in the world, according to a news release.

"Considering the plight of the geometric tortoise, there was an obvious need to act swiftly to purchase and protect the last remnants of its natural habitat," Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust, said in the release. "Thanks to our collaboration with the Turtle Conservancy and SATCT, nearly a fifth of all geometric tortoises are now protected, and there is good reason to believe that the new reserve will help set the stage for a comeback."

SATCT purchased the land this past August from a local sheep and grape farmer whose family had owned the land for generations, the Turtle Conservancy told Nature World News. This land was chosen based on the rather high density of geometric tortoises living in the area. The organization expects that the reserve will house between 100 and 200 geometric tortoises. (Scroll to read more...)

The geometric tortoise is a rare teeny tiny tortoise species with a yellow and black-patterned shell. Roughly 95 percent of the animal's natural habitat has been destroyed by agriculture expansion, road construction and traffic-related moralities, overgrazing by invasive species and an increasing amount of wildfires. Ultimately, this habitat loss has resulted in wild populations declining to less than 1,000 individuals and earned the species as spot on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' (IUCN) Endangered list.

However, the animal's status may soon be changed to Critically Endangered, and in order to survive the tortoises are going to be dependent on this new reserve and the protection that it offers, the Rainforest Trust told Nature World News. 

"There have been intermittent plans and some reserves created over the past 50 years, but only recently has international and local governmental attention risen to a new level of concern," Dr. James Juvik, Director of South Africa Programs at the Turtle Conservancy, explained in the release. 

Geometric tortoises primarily feed on shrubbery, wildflowers, and other forms of vegetation indigenous to their native habitats. Over the next year, SATCT plans to remove all invasive species, restore native plants and control predation within the new reserve to best help the struggling tortoises. Fencing and firebreaks will also be installed around the perimeter of the property to keep poachers and other invaders out, the Turtle Conservancy told Nature World News. Researchers also plan to take an annual census of the tortoises living in park to see how their populations are responding to conservation efforts. 

Subsequently, the Geometric Tortoise Preserve will also be providing much-need protection for the angulate and parrot-beaked tortoises, as well as numerous rare plant species. 

The angulate or bowsprit tortoise is native to South Africa and parts of Namibia. It is not considered threatened nationally in South Africa (nor by the IUCN), but local populations may be endangered, according to the Rainforest Trust. This tortoise species is also endangered by the loss of habitat from agricultural and urban development, as well as from illegal trading, where the animals are hunted and collected as pets or food. Some of the tortoises' natural predators include dogs, baboons, jackals, mongoose, and birds. 

The parrot-beaked tortoise can be seen throughout Northern, Western, and Eastern Cape Provinces of South Africa. This species prefers living in dry scrub areas and rarely enters grassland, according to the Rainforest Trust. Like the angulate tortoise, it is threatened by habitat destruction, traffic on roads, dogs, pigs, and poaching for the pet trade, but not enough so to earn it a spot on the IUCN's redlist. (Scroll to read more...)

Often times within smaller animal populations inbreeding comes as a concern for the species' survival. Essentially, when there are fewer mating options, reproduction becomes less and less diverse. This too can ultimately affect the survival rate of a species. Therefore, conservationists aim to create captive populations that are large enough to be demographically stable and genetically healthy. 

Due to habitat destruction, the geometric tortoises already exist in isolated patches. However, there is no evidence, so far, of inbreeding suppression, and populations living within the new reserve are sufficiently large enough that this should not be a problem, the Turtle Conservancy explained. 

The Rainforest Trust hopes to partner with the Turtle Conservancy and SATCT again to further expand the reserve by 856 acres. To do this, the organizations plan to purchase a large adjacent property in the near future. 

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