Connected and monitored turtles for science in Carnoules

Damaged by fires, samples, dogs, wild clearings, road impacts or the introduction of toxic turtles, Hermann’s turtles can nevertheless and fortunately count on the vigilance and care of the Soptom association. (Observation and protection station for turtles and their habitats).

A real hospital for this endangered species, which has a dozen scientists.

Hosted in the turtle village of Carnoules, route du Luc, this entity aims to “study and protect reptiles, more specifically turtles and their habitats in France and around the world. It is made up of two entities: the Conservation Breeding Center and the Wildlife Care Center.

Following the terrible fire of August 2021, rescued herbivorous reptiles, suffering or not, were treated and then released into their natural environment in the Massif des Maures, after the installation of a VHF transmitter (known as radiolocation). And this in order to observe their behavior and their level of resilience.

A fast of several months

First observation: the turtles collected in the burned environments and released at the exact place of their collection remained. They did not try to go, even if only 50 or 100 meters further, even if the vegetation is more favorable there. A practice which is explained by the philopatric nature of the species, which leads the chelonian to return to its lands.

« If there were casualties at the very beginning of the operation due to too deep wounds, the turtles that were able to hibernate last winter are doing very well todayreveals Sébastien Caron, director at Soptom.

The turtles, licked by the fire, have certainly reached the hibernation phase, but later than the others. “However, they may have fasted for months and not drunk water for several weeks in a row.“, like his more fortunate comrades.

The turtles ended up finding food on these lands which could seem inhospitable thanks to the first rains.

And even more for those who had taken up residence in the pine forests. “Studies have shown – and this was verified during the last fire – that after a fire, the ground is no longer covered with needles and dried leaves lying in the shade, the plant regrowth is therefore sufficiently substantial. to feed the animals and in this case the turtles.

From there to thinking that a fire is regenerating, there is only one step… that you must not cross.

Indeed, regular fires can lead to the total destruction of this protected species. And, faced with climate change and the influx of tourists, the director of Soptom is asking questions about this species.

Healing over months or even years

Soptom teams monitor the weight and size of this shelled population. Important data that reflects the good state or not of their physical conditions.

Healing of turtle shells, which have been antiseptic to strengthen it before reintroduction, can take months or even years. “ It is necessary to wait for the scale to fall off, for the underlying bone to be seen, for the shell to finally reform.

After many escapes in the massif which becomes greener every day, the director remains hopeful.

Last spring, life resumed its rights. “The turtles began to come out of their hiding place to take in the rays of the sun. They remained within a few meters of their hibernation site and returned to burrow when temperatures dropped. Others seemed determined to stay warm under their earth and litter blankets.“, says the tortupôle.

With the high summer heat, tetrapod vertebrates were difficult to find as they were often hidden in the ground or bushes for protection. Their metabolism was slowing down. We then speak of aestivation.

Today, again in hibernation, without any particular stress, all the indicators are green. And that’s good news because, this time, the animals went into hibernation on time.

A unique release in France of turtles born in conservatory breeding

The Soptom (Station for the observation and protection of turtles and their environments) has had a conservatory breeding for about twenty years.

The website is “ duly authorized: authorizations, choice of parents, control of genetics and health aspects, etc.“.

It is the only conservation farm recognized by the state in France to carry out so-called “conservatory translocation” operations.

The association therefore proceeded to its very first release of turtles intended for “restore or strengthen their presence in an area where the population has declined, mainly due to fires“, specifies Sébastien Caron.

And this is a first at the national level.

It is an experiment that is intended to be scientifically evaluated. Turtles have a late maturity (10-12 years), and a low reproductive rate. This largely justifies protecting this long-lived species and trying to give them a ”boost””, explains Mr. Caron.

The first chelonians destined to join this site (kept secret) were born on May 10 and the laying ended at the beginning of July. “Some females from our conservatory breeding have made two or three clutches.

And to continue: “The incubation period in the wild is normally 90 days. Here, the incubator reduces this period to 60 days.

The young have broken, after a few hours or a few days, their shell with the help of a horny tooth located at the end of their beak, which is called the diamond. “Then, our proteges took a bath and were put after a few days in suitable outdoor enclosures.

A hundred small animals are therefore currently on this land, burned in the past, equipped with a transmitter. No worries at the moment.

Please note that individuals are still prohibited from “collect, transport or release” turtles in and from natural environments, due to a risk of disease transmission or genetic pollution of wild populations. This is an offense punishable by 3 years in prison and a fine of €150,000.