ABSTRACT: In 1992 I evaluated the prospects for management of Indian tortoises. Although it was clear that management activity needed to be strengthened, basic biological information was lacking, and it was concluded that management plans for the majority of Asian tortoises must be put forth as both tentative and preliminary.
The purpose of the present paper is to reevaluate this issue by focusing on a single species. It emphasizes that a management plan must integrate diverse disciplines, take into account human attitudes and needs, and have a long-term vision. A management plan must be plainly understood to be an approximation, rather than a final product: management must not be a euphemism for manipulation. The periodic reexamination of the biological status of the species and habitats involved, as well as the social, economic, and political conditions impacting these species and habitats must be a non-negotiable feature of any management plan. Regular updating of the plan must be a priority.
This notion is especially important for the Third World, with its acute social and political turmoil, as well as its extraordinary biological diversity. Habitat alteration in many parts of the tropics is so extensive and rapid that determination of the original geographic distributions of even the better-known chelonians is a major challenge. This, in turn, makes it next to impossible to understand such basic aspects as the habitat requirements of these species. The circumstances of one of the best-known tropical tortoisesthe star tortoise, Geochelone elegans, illustrates these points, and details are presented here as a case study.