Tortoise Project
Photo Credit: FreeMe Wildlife

Wildlife heroes and a superstar pilot came together to make sure eight Leopard Tortoises would get to go back to their natural home. This is the Tortoise Project!


KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (07 May, 2024)—Eight Leopard Tortoises have successfully returned back to their original, natural home in Limpopo thanks to a superstar pilot, wildlife heroes and community rooting for them! While each tortoise has its own unique story (some were confiscated, or given up, but most were part of the illegal pet trade), the Tortoise Project ensured that they would all have a happy ending.

On a mission to return tortoises back to their homes in the wild, The Tortoise Project arose as a response to “change the fate” of captive tortoises, as FreeMe Wildlife (a wildlife trauma and rehabilitation centre based in Howick) share.

As Wade Whitehead, CEO of FreeMe Wildlife tells Good Things Guy, the Tortoise Project has been in the works for the past seven years. Though the project was initiated by FreeMe Wildlife, it has grown into a massive collaborative effort; meaning more tortoises have an army behind them!

For the wildlife heroes involved, the goal is simple: to re-wild tortoises in a way that will not put them at a disadvantage. This is done through an intensive program where the animals are introduced to natural foods, encouraged to use their natural instincts and a focus on their fitness is key so that they will be fit for life back in the wild.

But, taking things a step further, DNA confirmation tests are done with the help of organisations like South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) so that tortoises (like those that have been part of illegal trades) can return back to their genetically-based original homes.

The homecoming was a big occasion for those supporting the eight Leopard Tortoises who recently arrived at Entabeni Game Reserve in the Waterberg Mountains, and marks another milestone of effort for the smaller wildlife creatures in need of support.

The mission from KZN to Limpopo would hardly have been made possible without the FreeMe Wildlife teams and ‘super hero’ volunteer pilot Claude Parnell of non-profit The Bateleurs. From the boots on the ground to the wings of change in the sky, it’s fantastic to note that people from such different professional backgrounds all came together to make these little beings’ lives better.

Sources: GTG interview—Wade Whitehead; FreeMe Wildlife 
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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