Is there a con in conservation that serves only the emotional needs of those involved whilst overlooking the needs of the animals in question? Is the threat posed to individual species, and biodiversity as a whole, by those with the self-appointed mandate of trying to “protect” them greater or lesser than the perceived threats?
In our area tortoises are being moved out of their coastal native habitat because there is concern for their well-being. Reportedly, they are threatened by “builders or the Chinese who eat them” and “municipal tractors that flatten them when cutting grass”. Whilst we may indeed be losing a few tortoises to these gross assumptions and racist generalizations, what threat is posed to the population by those who move them for “safety” reasons or by those who keep them as pets? Does the latter actually outweigh the former when one stops to consider all aspects and are we at risk of depleting the breeding stock and gene pool ourselves?
Tortoises are known as habitat and food specialists. This implies that tortoises require specific habitats to cater for their unique food requirements. Simply moving them does not cater for their set needs that they have evolved to depend on. Nor does it consider the implications of moving pathogens and disease from one isolated population into another. The “simple act” of relocating a tortoise can negatively affect all tortoises native to the relocated area.
It is important to note that all tortoise species in South Africa are protected by law. Therefore without permits the collection, transportation, captivity, donation, selling, import and export of tortoises are illegal under the Nature Conservation Ordination Act (Ord. no.19 from 1974).
Whilst it is important to re-evaluate our own actions and impact, as well as those of others, one cannot ignore why these actions are taking place in the first place. Habitat loss through constant linear development means that animals like tortoises have less space for themselves and will become more affected by both the actions and lack of action of man. We ultimately have a choice: do we oversanitize our living environment because we can’t coexist with other species or do we accept the potential collateral damage of development?
If we choose to remove all tortoises from our immediate environment how do we then teach others to look after and love that which they do not know and are not familiar with?