THE owners of 2,322 tortoises in Almeria province had to hand them over after the law changed.
Keeping a tortoise as a household pet is customary in Almeria but Spain’s new Penal Code made it a punishable offence to own an endangered Moroccan tortoise (testudo graeca).
Wanting to avoid a possible two-year prison sentence, owners took them to Seprona, the police and the CREA wildlife rehabilitation centre in Velez Blanco.
Of these, 112 had to be put down because they were infirm. Others were freed in Sierra Cabrera where the local tortoise population has been wiped out by successive forest fires.
Vets found that although 500 were Moroccan tortoises they had not been bred here and were due to be returned Morocco. This plan was shelved for “genetic and health reasons” although they are being kept separate from the Spanish species.
Other tortoises remain in Velez Blanca but will be sent to CREAS in other provinces for eventual rehoming where, until they are ready to leave, males and females are strictly segregated. Endangered or not, they would breed too quickly and saturate the centres, experts explained.