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Pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 14259801

Range-wide population status, genetics, and conservation of the pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) in east Africa

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 14259801) - Pancake tortoise - Awarded $12,000 on January 21, 2015

Michael Tuma, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Southern California, will lead a team of researchers in conducting research and implementing conservation activities at pancake tortoise populations throughout Kenya and Tanzania. The team will survey known wild pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) populations in Kenya and Tanzania that were last surveyed in the 1990s in order to update the conservation status of these populations; collect DNA samples at each locality to assess range-wide genetic population structure and variation in the species; and implement local education programs in villages and towns in the vicinity of tortoise populations.

The pancake tortoise is a relatively understudied east African species that has likely experienced major population declines due to heavy exploitation for the exotic pet trade. Pancake tortoise populations are also threatened by incompatible land uses, primarily agricultural practices and livestock grazing. With as much as 95% of pancake tortoises occurring on private lands outside of protected areas, the majority of populations are at risk.

The research will build upon previous work by Klemens and Moll (1995) and Malonza (2003) by providing valuable comparative data by which to assess changes in populations over the past two decades - a period when their exploitation has likely intensified, particularly in Tanzania. Assessment of the species' range-wide genetic structure will identify whether range disjunctions and scattered populations have contributed to genetic variation that is currently unrecognized. Implementation of community outreach and education programs in the villages near pancake tortoise populations will provide much-needed information to locals who live and work in proximity to this species. 

With recent funding from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Tuma will begin work on acquiring permits to conduct the fieldwork, currently planned for the summer of 2015.

Klemens, M. W. and D. Moll. 1995. An assessment of the effects of commercial exploitation on the pancake tortoise, Malacochersus tornieri, in Tanzania. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 1:197-206. 

Malonza, P. K. (2003). Ecology and distribution of the pancake tortoise, Malacochersus tornieri, in Kenya. Journal of East African Natural History 92:81-96. 

Learn more about Michael Tuma's research at michaeltuma.net.

 



Project 14259801 location - Tanzania, Africa