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2016 Whitley Award
Juliette Velosoa Madagascar Wetland and Freshwater
Saving the Critically Endangered side-necked turtle

Winner of the The Whitley Award donated by the Garden House School Parents’ Association


Ancient and Critically Endangered, the Madagascar side-necked turtle, known locally as the rere, is the only endemic freshwater turtle on the island. Once found throughout western Madagascar, the species has experienced a rapid decline throughout its range as a result of overexploitation for food and severe loss of wetland habitat. Only eight stable populations remain.

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Juliette Velosoa, of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, has led the recovery for the rere across Madagascar since 1998. Her project focuses on two key protected areas for these turtles: Lake Ambondrobe and Ankarafantsika National Park, which provide valuable freshwater resources for communities living nearby. Using the rere as a flagship, Juliette is encouraging community-led resource management and restoration of wetlands using techniques that favour conservation and improve fish stocks. Paired with nest protection and head-starting of over 6,000 young turtles, populations are starting to show signs of recovery.

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Wetlands are Madagascar’s most threatened ecosystem due to mass conversion, siltation and invasive species. Their exploitation is exacerbated by a lack of understanding of the vital ecosystem services they provide. In 2015, Madagascar declared 83 new protected areas but with no guidelines of how wetlands should be managed, making Juliette’s work both timely and urgent.

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Juliette’s project aims to:

  • Shape and implement locally-led management plans for two key protected areas that take into account ecosystem services and local customs.
  • Support villages to sustainably manage resources around these wetlands and establish community patrol teams to monitor and protect wetlands and their wildlife.
  • Promote the value of freshwater turtles among stakeholders in all protected areas where they occur.
  • Host a national workshop in partnership with government to support sharing of best management practices between protected areas with a view to expanding the project across Madagascar.

Why it matters:

  • The rere is evolutionarily distinct; its closest relatives are found in South America.
  • 75% of Madagascans live below the international poverty line.
  • This project will act as a national case study for wetland conservation.Exploitation, habitat loss and trade are causing global declines in freshwater turtles.

Rural communities provide the rere’s best hope for the future.