This morning Kipi, one of Darakuta’s herdsmen, came across a peculiar turtle. He took a picture and showed it to Michele Menegon ((Museo delle Scienze, Italy), one of the researchers currently at Darakuta. Michele suddenly got really excited – turns out the tortoise was none other than a pancake tortoise!
The pancake tortoise, Malacochersus tornieri, is an unusual species of tortoise. Not only does it have a flattened and soft shell, it is also crevice-dwelling and endemic to small, rocky outcrops scattered throughout Kenya and Tanzania. They live in isolated colonies, with many individuals sharing the same kopje (outcrop) or even crevice. Although their flattened, soft and flexible shell means that they could easily be torn apart by a predator, this shell is also what enables them to crawl into narrow rock crevices where they can escape predators, and exploit an environment that no other tortoise is capable of using. On top of that, unlike most other tortoises with solid shell bones, those of the pancake tortoise have many air spaces. This makes them lighter and more agile than other tortoises and allows them to rely on speed and flexibility to escape from dangerous situations, rather than withdrawing into their shell.
Unfortunately, it is exactly this peculiar shape, soft shell and lizard-like behaviour that has made them popular in the international pet trade and led to their increasingly threatened population status. In both Kenya and Tanzania much of the population occurs outside protected areas, increasing their vulnerability to over-exploitation and loss of habitat through shifting cultivation. In situ conservation through establishment of publicly and/or privately owned nature reserves is recommended for their conservation.
We are really excited that Darakuta is a haven for this curious but vulnerable species!
Darakuta's multi-use system, where ranching, wildlife and farming co-exist side-by-side, requires careful monitoring to allow proper management. Working together with PAMS Foundation affiliated researchers, we are performing a basic species inventory of Darakuta that will help us gain a better understanding of the species that already call Darakuta home. This in turn will enable better monitoring so that Darakuta can adequately conserve species and their habitats to promote a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem.
This partnership with research specialists, as well as with the wildlife and security specialists PAMS Foundation, will ensure that we stay at the forefront of effective conservation action.
The researchers, Michele Menegon (Museo delle Scienze, Italy), and Lucinda Lawson from Cincinatti University in Ohio, certainly look like they are having a lot of fun!
Fun and games aside, the researchers have already been able to define critical habitats as no-go zones for the cattle, and have set up a slew of camera traps that are providing invaluable insight into the lives of Darakuta’s more cryptic species; leopards, jackals, porcupines, duikers, civets and genet cats to name a few.
Michele has also set up an inaturalist project for Darakuta – take a look at the diverse array of species he has already catalogued under this link: Darakuta Goes Wild!
A big breakthrough after only forty days on the job for our ranger team - they tracked down a well known Poacher named Hamadi. He had been active on Darakuta for more than 20 years, killing over 700 animals. In a previous interrogation he had admitted to poaching the last group of giraffes on Darakuta. The good news is that he informed on several other poachers, information we hope will help our rangers catch more poachers.
Elephants were last seen on Darakuta was over 15 years ago. Yesterday, with only a few days to go before our new team of rangers are set to finish their training, a group of elephants moved in to Darakuta. Is that a coincidence or do elephants have a seventh sense? Watch here as we get back to you with the latest updates and try to get some pictures. According to eye-witnesses, it is a group of about 10-16 individuals. Even if they are less they are most welcome
"Hilo jeshi mambo ya upendo yako sawa-sawa!!"... The sound of melodious voices and stomping feet drift through the Rift Valley air. Rangers in training - the first step of establishing Darakuta as a Game Ranch has been set in motion, with the help of PAMS Foundation. It all began when we met with Wayne Lotter from PAMS Foundation on a sunny afternoon in Arusha. We had approached the Game Office in Babati about establishing Darakuta as a game ranch, and they recommended that we contact PAMS Foundation about training a team of rangers. We quickly realised that Darakuta and PAMS Foundation had many overlapping interests. What started out some big ideas has begun to take form, and training began about a month ago! Thirty candidates were selected, 10 by Darakuta from the surrounding communities, and 20 by PAMS from all over Tanzania. The candidates worked through a rigorous training program led by PAMS Foundation's instructors, on the newly established PAMS training base located at Darakuta HQ. All 10 of Darakuta's and 18 of PAMS Foundation's candidates completed the training successfully. The Darakuta Rangers are not quite done yet though! After an initial period of patrolling on the ground at Darakuta under the guidance of one PAMS Foundation's instructors, a few of the rangers will be selected to attend the second level training in Sekamaganga.