Populations of The Yellow Foot Tortoise, Geochelone denticulata are in a state of rapid decline in Peru. The meat of the motelo, as it is called by many Peruvians, is a prized delicacy. Motelo soup and dishes are frequently offered in restaurants, even in upscale restaurants in tourist centers. Markets in Belen and Yurimaguas frequently boast tables piled high with butchered denticulata and small mountains of their eggs, which, of course are coveted for their perceived aphoristic effects. Without a doubt populations must be teetering on the verge of a collapse, decades of intense pressure have taken their toll.
INRENA, with increasing regularity confiscates live tortoises from the markets themselves and from campesinos transporting them by riverboats to Iquitos for the market or for their own consumption. However, funding as is the case nearly everywhere in the world is tight, and INRENA’s holding facilities were over loaded. INRENA approached us to see if we could help provide housing for some of these animals. We have done so in the past with confiscated shipments of Poison Frogs and other amphibians, and we agreed to do so here with the tortoises.
In early June, 2009 we took possession of a herd of 50 adult denticulata following a veterinary check and an INRENA supervision of our recently constructed tortoise habitat on the outskirts of Iquitos. We will continue to work with INRENA in situations like these making available space and resources when at all possible to house animals such as the Motelo, offering them at the very least a better future than in a soup bowl.
Ongoing expenses incurred with care, feeding and housing of these tortoises is derived from proceeds from the sales of our frogs and vivaria and other products. Continued patronage to Understory will ensure that efforts like these may continue.