Tuma and Mwaya inspect a pancake tortoise near Kwa Kuchinja, Tanzania

Tuma and Mwaya inspect a pancake tortoise near Kwa Kuchinja, Tanzania

For my post-doc research, I will update the conservation status of known wild pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) populations in Kenya and Tanzania with population surveys at known localities, collect DNA samples to assess range-wide genetic population structure in the species, and implement local education programs in villages and towns in the vicinity of tortoise populations. The pancake tortoise is a relatively understudied east African species that has likely experienced major population declines due to heavy exploitation for the exotic pet trade. With as much as 95% of pancake tortoises occurring on private lands outside of protected areas, the majority of populations are at risk of exploitation. Pancake tortoise populations are also threatened by incompatible land uses, primarily agricultural practices and livestock grazing. The research will build upon previous work by Klemens and Moll (1995) and Malonza (2003) by providing valuable comparative data by which to assess changes in populations over the past two decades – a period when their exploitation has likely intensified, particularly in Tanzania. Assessment of the species’ range-wide genetic structure will identify whether range disjunctions and scattered populations have contributed to genetic variation that is currently unrecognized. Implementation of community outreach and education programs in the villages near pancake tortoise populations will provide much-needed information to locals who live and work in proximity to this species. I am currently seeking funding for this project, and I hope to enter the field to sample tortoise populations and collect DNA samples in late 2015 or early 2016.

Pancake tortoise captured near Kondoa, Tanzania

Pancake tortoise captured near Kondoa, Tanzania