Babcock's leopard tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki) are taken to rehabilitation centers in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa, because they are either escaped, unwanted, or confiscated pets, or else are confiscated from persons who acquire them illegally from the wild. South African rehabilitation centers are reluctant to euthanize tortoises, and there are few tortoise sanctuaries. Consequently, the local conservation authority, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, developed a release protocol based on International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources guidelines, to facilitate the release of rehabilitated S. p. babcocki into the wild. The present study was done to determine whether rehabilitated animals could be successfully released into the wild, judged by whether individuals were able to survive in the wild. Seventeen apparently healthy individuals, with longer than 100-mm carapace length, that had been in captivity for more than 2 months in a large rehabilitation center were released into the wild. These rehabilitated animals, with attached radiotelemeters, were hard-released at 2 different sites within the historical range of the species and were monitored over a year. One of the tortoises was returned to captivity because of disease, 3 were killed intentionally or accidentally by humans, one died probably due to being turned over by another animal, 3 others died from a combination of disease, starvation and/or dehydration, and the fate of 6 was unknown. Because only 2 animals survived 13 months after release at one of the sites and only one was known to have survived 25 months after release at the other site, rehabilitated S. p. babcocki were not successfully released into the wild. However, recommendations to improve the probability of success of future releases of rehabilitated S. p. babcocki into the wild are provided.
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