Saturday, June 1, 2013

Albera tortoise sanctuary

Finally, a break in the very mixed weather. We decided to go to the cooperative in Villajuiga for some shopping by traveling up over the mountain route. There were still some poppies lining the route with lots of little yellow mountain flowers. The brilliant yellow broom was still in bloom. It is unusual to see any wildlife other than birds but today right along the roadway we spotted a bright green ocellated lizard at the side of the road. We stopped to watch it for awhile before it scampered off up the rock face. This one hadn't quite reached its mature length of 30 to 60 centimetres.

With our shopping completed we took the road through the town to the Albera tortoise reproduction sanctuary. The Alberas are the most easterly stretch of the Pyrenees, and home to the last natural population of the Mediterranean tortoise of the Iberian peninsulas. Here there are installations for the breeding of the tortoises in order to boost the natural population. The different aspects of their biology are studied in order to heighten the need for their protection and conservation and to save the tortoise from extinction.

As we walked around the various pens the tortoises were easy to spot, some were sleeping, others were moving around at a good pace. There were plaques to tell us about the reproduction. No wonder they have problems since their mating begins with the male coming up behind the female and biting her legs. Some foreplay. The tortoises do mate twice a year. In fact the females lay their eggs in a couple of nests. We were lucky enough to see some of the eggs that hadn't been covered for some reason. There were cages with some very small babies to some larger babies. When the babies have grown enough they are released into the wild. Based on the number of young we saw, the reproduction centre is very successful. The tortoises' main enemy is the magpie that will eat fifty percent of the young.

There were other tortoises from all over the Mediterranean. In fact some of them were quite large. It was quite funny watching the tortoises walk into the feeding bowl to feed on the vegetable pellets. We watched them eating grass and weeds and lettuce that was bitten by the keeper and thrown into their enclosures. In fact she broke up a fight by just picking up one of the tortoises and moving it.

As well as the tortoises there were local turtles that were part of a reproduction program since it is thought that there are only about 500 of them left in the wild. Their numbers are reduced because people captured them to keep as pets and they then bred with the common red-eared turtle that people kept as pets. There were lots of these huge red-eared turtles that had grown from the little turtles that pet shops used to sell. No wonder people released them as some of them were huge. There was even a snapping turtle in one pond. These I remember since one used to make the difficult trip from the river every June 18 to lay its eggs in our back garden. You didn't want to get near her as she was extremely vicious.

We decided to return by the mountain route where we spotted something that looked like a ferret but turned out to be a polecat climbing the rocks at the side of the road. Because the weather wasn't overly hot we were lucky to see the lizard and polecat as well as the very active tortoises.

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