Face-to-face interviews with local populations are often used to determine the distribution and population trends of elusive threatened species. Although interviewee responses may suffer from some bias, historical trends in the status of a species can be investigated from age-structured questionnaires. In this paper, we tested this idea by analysing separately answers given by older (> 60 years age) and younger respondents (25–44 years old) on the status of the African spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata), a charismatic large reptile listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. We interviewed 619 people (hunters/farmers/cattle farmers) of different ages in three of the species’ habitat countries (Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria). Interviewees were asked whether in their experience the tortoise was common, rare or absent. Using generalized linear models, we showed the probability of answering ‘common’ increased with age in Nigeria and Burkina Faso, whereas the probability of responding ‘absent’ declined with age in Nigeria and Niger. We argue that if statistical differences emerge between answers given by respondents of various age classes on the population status of a target species, the species’ situation may have changed significantly during the last 30–40 years.