ABSTRACT: The conservation programme for Hermanns tortoise in southern France started as a traditional autecological research project in the early 1980s. The research findings prompted a locally based conservation initiative, which by the early 1990s had developed into an internationally acclaimed example of popular conservation in action.
The focus of the project is the Village des Tortues conservation/visitor centre, which annually attracts many tens of thousands of visitors both from the local area (including numerous school parties) and tourists from throughout Europe. The Village des Tortues provides the funding base for the direct conservation programme aimed at protecting and restoring wild tortoise populations in the Massif des Maures, Var.
The wide-ranging publicity derived from the project has helped spawn similar initiatives in other countries, notably Italy, and SOPTOM itself is currently promoting new Tortoise Villages in Corsica and Senegal. It is also twinned with the turtle centre at Les Hattes in French Guyana.
This paper reviews the development of the SOPTOM project, which combines the key elements of a strong local base within the target species natural range and crucial support from national and international conservation organisations. The foundation of the project depended upon support from outside agencies. Now SOPTOM is itself able to export know-how and resources to aid other tortoise conservation programmes. Locally, the momentum of the tortoise conservation work has also contributed to safeguarding key habitats and other associated species that would otherwise not have received sufficient exposure and support to ensure their protection.