Buenos Aires, May 23 (EFE).- A group of 10 Yaboti tortoises, formerly the largest land species of tortoise in Argentina but now apparently extinct in that country, were transported from Paraguay and then released in Argentina’s El Impenetrable National Park, the Rewilding Argentina Foundation reported on Monday.
This is the largest transfer of animals between the two countries for a reintroduction project, with Paraguay’s Urutau Refuge donating the first 40 tortoises of which, after going through a quarantine in Argentina’s northeastern Corrientes province, 10 were then transferred to the El Impenetrable National Park in Chaco province, also in the northeast.
The first group of 10 tortoises was released after going through a quarantine and adaptation period, and the remaining three groups – of 10 animals each – will be gradually released, according to Rewilding Argentina, a schedule that “will allow more intensive monitoring of each individual during the first days in freedom, something that is key in evaluating their adaptation to the Chaco forest.”
This new rewilding project is aimed at reestablishing the key ecological role played by Yaboti tortoises in the region in disseminating seeds of the fruits they eat and thus contributing to the regeneration of local forests.
The project is being undertaken jointly by the Rewilding Argentina Foundation, the National Parks Administration and Chaco province and is being supported by the Urutau Refuge in the Paraguayan city of Filadelfia and the neighboring country’s Environment and Sustainable Development Ministry.
The Yabori tortoise is the second largest species of its kind in South America with adults weighing more than 20 kilograms (44 pounds).
Originally, the tortoise was to be found all over the Chaco region of Argentina’s northern provinces of Salta, Formosa and Chaco.
“Although it’s believed that a few isolated individuals could still survive in Formosa, today the species is apparently extinct in the rest of the country since no (sightings) have been made in other provinces for more than 10 years,” biologist Gerardo Ceron, the coordinator of conservation for the Rewilding Argentina Foundation’s El Impenetrable Project, said in the statement announcing the release of the first 10 animals.
The main causes for the decline in the tortoise population have been hunting, capturing them as pets and the destruction of their habitat, Ceron said, adding that the park, being a protected area where those threats do not exist, is considered an optimal area for the reintroduction project.
The tortoises will be monitored with VHF devices attached to their shells to evaluate how well they are adapting to their new habitat, to check their general situation – that is, whether they’re finding food on their own – and to study their behavior, the foundation said.
Rewilding Argentina hopes that this first group of tortoises will begin increasing in the world as the adults reproduce.