Catalonia, haven for endangered tortoises

Ivars i Vila-sana, near to Lleida, will host the European pond terrapin tortoise, threatened with extinction. This semi-aquatic species is threatened by a recently introduced tortoise from North-America, which is stronger and competes in the same habitat.

Sergio Uceda

June 26, 2010 03:56 AM

Ivars i Vila-sana, close to Lleida, will become a safe haven for a type of European freshwater tortoise in danger of extinction. The species is called the European pond terrapin (although its technical name is Emys orbicularis) and it is threatened in Catalonia by the red-eared slider tortoise, of North American origins.

After a period of rehabilitation, Ivars i Vila-sana will host a new kind of tortoise, the European pond terrapin technically known as the Emys orbicularis. This tortoise is in danger of extinction in Catalonia after the rapid growth of the red-eared slider tortoise, more popularly known as the American tortoise because of its North-American origins. The population of the terrapin tortoise is around a thousand specimens in Catalonia. The conditions of the pond at Ivars i Vila-sana are suitable for the terrapin tortoise and, therefore, this species will be introduced at the end of this year or, at the very latest, at the beginning of 2011. This will contribute to the recovery of the terrapin tortoise. However, before the terrapin is introduced, the red-eared slider tortoise should be eradicated from the pond.

The red-eared slider is bigger, more aggressive and more adaptable than the terrapin tortoise. The European pond terrapin is a less adaptable species and according to Joaquim Soler, one of the technicians at Ivars i Vila-sana, the terrapin tortoise depends heavily on good environmental conditions. For this reason, this tortoise is used as a gauge for measuring environmental quality.

Joan Reñé, president of the Ivars i Vila-sana Pond Consortium, says this project is part of a general plan for enriching the biodiversity of the pond. Last year, a similar initiative was carried out with the introduction of two horses from the Ebre Delta Natural Park. The European pond terrapin tortoise project has a running cost of 16,000 euros, funded by the Social Foundation of Caixa Catalunya savings bank. The University of Lleida will be monitoring the tortoises.