Durrell's Juliette Velosoa begins research on the rere to gain a better understanding of its ecology and the threats it faces. Through village interviews and site surveys, it is clear that the major threats to the rere are anthropogenic. In light of this, Durrell begin working to engage local communities in rere conservation. Initial research on the rere began with Conservation International and Dr. Gerald Kuchling in 1991, and has been continued by Durrell to the present day.
With the help of local communities, Durrell carry out intensive nest monitoring and protection at Lakes Antsilomba and Ambondrobe. Once a nest is reported, Durrell visit the nest to collect scientific data and the nest is then protected and monitored by local people. Since 1998, local people at Lakes Antsilomba and Ambondrobe have protected nests that have produced more than 4000 rere hatchlings. This work has been supported and funded by the Turtle Conservation Fund.
The connection between a healthy wetland ecosystem and sustainable benefits to local communities (e.g. fish, clean water, and marsh products like raffia) are demonstrated through local festivals with an environmental theme and by celebrating national and international events such as World Environment Day.
In collaboration with Conservation International, Durrell set up a captive breeding programme at Ampijoroa in Ankarafantsika National Park, with the goal of breeding animals to reintroduce into the wild. However, captive breeding can be a tricky process and the rere is no exception. Staff found that males can be aggressive towards females outside of the breeding season and the period of reproduction is linked to annual rainfall patterns, making the timing of captive breeding a challenge.
With financial support from the Turtle Conservation Fund, Durrell begin working to head-start young turtles in order to boost the population. Head-starting is the process of rearing hatchlings to the point where they are no longer vulnerable to predators which increases their overall chance of survival. Two hatchlings from each protected wild nest are collected and raised in captivity for 3 - 10 years before being released.
New population data by Durrell indicates a rapid decline in the species' population size, averaging 70% over a ten year period. At 27% of sites throughout the species’ known range, the rere is close to extinction. At a further 31% of sites the species has been over-exploited and is in serious decline. Only eight sites, representing an estimated 8% of the species’ historical range, currently support stable populations and only six of these sites are located within protected areas.
In collaboration with Madagascar National Parks,158 head-started turtles are released in Lake Ankomakoma. Ankomakoma was once an historically important lake for turtles, but over-fishing dramatically reduced the population.
Following the successful release of head-started turtles, the rere population increases at Lakes Antsilomba and Ankomakoma. Improvements in habitat quality and an increase in endemic fish populations are also seen. Much of this is due to increased motivation of the nearby local communities to protect and improve the health of the lake.
Despite increases in the rere population at Ankarafantsika National Park, following a re-assessment using Durrell’s updated population data, the rere is moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List due to the rapid decline of the species throughout its range over the past decade.
Durrell work to reinvigorate traditional laws for the benefit of both the rere and local people. These laws, known locally as Dinas, range from species specific laws prohibiting the consumption of rere or their eggs, to rules intended to conserve fish stocks, such as closed fishing seasons. With support from the Malagasy authorities and Durrell, local resource management is eventually handed over to local community associations and zones are set aside for strict conservation and habitat restoration.
A further 180 turtles are head-started and released into Lake Ankomakoma to restore the wild population. To date, over 300 turtles have been head-started.
An experimental translocation of hatchlings from Antsilomba to Ankomakoma is trialled, with the transfer of 28 hatchlings in 2010 and 18 in 2011. These annual translocations are monitored to compare survival between these translocated hatchlings and the head-started juveniles.
114 turtles are bred successfully in captivity and released into Lake Ravelobe to restore the wild population. Never before have captive bred reres been released into the wild so this is a world first for the species. It also marks the third lake within Ankarafantsika National Park to receive significant conservation attention; making this an area of huge importance for the rere. The community joins together to celebrate this important milestone.
After a long process requiring hard work and determination by Durrell staff, Lake Ambondrobe is the first New Protected Area in Madagascar that is created primarily for the conservation of a single species, the rere. This work was kindly supported through funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, allowing one of the most important habitats in the world for the rere to gain Protected Area status.
The Whitley Awards recognise, support and celebrate the work of proven grassroots conservation leaders in developing countries across the world. We are really proud that Juliette Velosoa from Durrell Madagascar has been recognised by the Whitley Awards for her outstanding contribution and dedication to the conservation of the rere.