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Relocation of 2 Leopard Tortoises from KZN to the Free State

FreeMe Wildlife has been spearheading The Tortoise Project, an initiative dedicated to the legal, ethical, and responsible reintroduction of indigenous tortoises into the wild in South Africa. We recently undertook the relocation of 2 Leopard Tortoises from KZN to the Free State.

Notably, in February 2023, through collaboration with The Bateleurs, The Tortoise Project successfully released 10 Leopard Tortoises in the Eastern Cape—a milestone for the program.


The project's primary objective is to return these animals to their places of origin to maintain pure genetic populations. Given the delicate nature of these reptiles, aerial support from The Bateleurs is preferred over ground transportation. The journey from Howick, KZN to the Free State by vehicle takes approximately 5.5 hours, which poses significant risks to the tortoises. Reptiles are highly sensitive to vibrations and overheating due to their anatomical structure. Prolonged exposure to vehicle vibrations induces severe stress, triggering a defense mechanism where the tortoises excrete bodily fluids, leading to dehydration. Dehydration is particularly hazardous for these sensitive animals, making aerial transport a safer and more humane option.

Mission report by our BATELEURS pilot, Claude Parnell

On our recent mission, we coordinated with Elishia from FreeMe Wildlife at Oribi Airport, where we loaded both tortoises into a single large utility bin, which just managed to fit into the aircraft. I was accompanied by Steve McCurrach, who graciously took over both piloting and in-flight catering duties.


The flight legs proceeded smoothly and punctually, arriving at the OFS Koppies airstrip precisely at 9 AM. We encountered approximately 10 knots of headwind en route to OFS and enjoyed a tailwind on the return journey. Upon arrival, Tasha and her daughter greeted us warmly at the destination airfield in Koppies with coffee and homemade Boer biscuits. Tasha's hospitality was exceptional; she ingeniously fashioned a windsock from her scarf and used her car to indicate the active runway by pointing it into the wind. She also ensured we were informed about the runway conditions and cleared the strip of cattle.


Due to the transport box being secured with cable ties, I was unable to interact with our passengers, the tortoises. I handed Tasha the transport permits and documentation from Elishia and began preparations for our departure.


We flew back to PMB at FL075, descending early to enjoy some sightseeing shortly after Bergville.

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