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The Tortoise Project

FREEME Wildlife, A Rocha South Africa, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and other interested parties are involved in a collaborative effort to reintroduce tortoises back into the wild.

Presently legislation does not allow for the release of tortoises that have been kept in captivity back into the wild. On one hand this is to protect the wild populations from genetic mixing through interbreeding with individuals from uncertain genetic backgrounds, and to protect wild populations from exposure to pathogens they have no natural immunity to; pathogens that will put the entire wild population in an area at risk.

On the other hand, previous releases undertaken with captive tortoises have proved a failure. This is because captive tortoises do not have an innate recognition of natural foods in the wild, are incredibly unfit, and are unable to navigate the dangers they are exposed to in the wild, conditions which almost always lead to their deaths.

FREEME Wildlife, and those organizations partnering with us, are setting out to change the fate of captive tortoises by embarking an an intensive program to ‘re-wild’ these tortoises; introducing them to natural foods, encouraging their natural instincts and responses, getting them fit, and putting them through a series of health checks that includes monitoring stress levels and testing for pathogens.

The Tortoise Project has become the focus project of 2022/2023. We are now at the point where Leopard Tortoises can be released as the ability to do virus tests, health checks, and DNA confirmation is within our means. The importance of DNA testing has been highlighted by the fact that the vast majority of the Leopard Tortoises in our care did not originate from Kwazulu-Natal but have come from other parts of the country. This confirms that tortoises are regularly picked up, transported, and subsequently dumped throughout South Africa as part of the illegal pet tortoise trade.


If you are able to help with materials, donate to the project, or get involved, please contact us through the contact form below: