Unleashing the potential of local captive populations for conservation in the West African savannahs – The case study of the African spurred tortoise

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We analysed the population characteristics of African spurred tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata) kept in captivity in cities in Burkina Faso (West Africa), a country where the species occurs naturally. We focused on two cities - Ouagadougou, the capital and the largest city in the country and Fada N'Gourma in the East of the country. We identified 50 households in Ouagadougou and 14 in Fada that kept spurred tortoises in captivity. We recorded a total of 310 tortoises from which we took morphometric data of 281 individuals. Another 63 spurred tortoises were reported in other locations in Ouagadougou, but no access was allowed by the owners. Most tortoises in Ouagadougou were young, and had an equal sex ratio. In Fada, the majority of tortoises were adults and there was a practically even sex ratio. Population structure of the captive tortoises differed between cities, and about 30% of the Fada individuals were captured from the wild in the surroundings of the town. Body size of spurred tortoises in both cities differed between sexes: males were significantly heavier and had longer carapace and plastron than females. Body condition status was similar in Ouagadougou and Fada, with large adults being underweight compared to their optimal. The distribution of tortoise numbers according to city sector in both cities was clumped. Tortoise owners varied in their socioeconomic background. Most tortoises are fed an omnivorous diet, but some were given a strictly herbivorous regime. Our results suggest that there is a significant potential to engage tortoise owners to use their animals in a collaborative captive breeding programme to produce hatchlings for reintroduction.

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