Tracking Tortoises for Conservation
The home range and movements of leopard tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) in the Karoo was the research topic of MSc degree graduate, Mr Martyn Drabik-Hamshare.
Drabik-Hamshare completed his BSc Honours degree in Zoology at the University of Southampton in England, but was enticed to South Africa, a tortoise hotspot, thanks to his passion for the animals. He ended up studying one of the largest continental species, the leopard tortoise, which finds itself threatened by human activities including agriculture, consumption and the pet trade.
Drabik-Hamshare’s study revealed that tortoises move further distances in areas closer to known water sources while those away from water sources move less, probably relying on food sources for water intake. He also demonstrated that tortoises do not move after dark but do so on bright moonlit nights, showing that night-time visibility probably has an influence on their ability to move.
Of particular concern for the tortoises in Drabik-Hamshare’s area of study was the use of electric fencing on commercial farmland. He says he hopes his results will help reduce the effects of electric fencing near water sources, as tortoises are more likely to make contact in these areas.
Drabik-Hamshare thanked his supervisor, Professor Colleen Downs, for providing him with the opportunity to spend time in South Africa and complete his studies in what he calls an amazing country. He was also named a top Emerging Researcher during the course of his studies at UKZN.
He thanked his field assistants for their hard work in the unforgiving Karoo climate, where they shared in many adventures on the trail of the tortoises. Drabik-Hamshare also acknowledged the farmers in Nelspoort and Beaufort West for providing opportunity, accommodation and assistance for his studies.
Having completed this research, Drabik-Hamshare hopes to venture to the United States to study reptile and amphibian ecology.