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African Tortoises See Senegal

FILE: This picture taken on June 10, 2015 shows a 19 year old male African spurred tortoise weighing about 70 kg (154 pounds), walking with his owner Hisao Mitani (L) on a street in the town of Tsukishima in Tokyo.

Forty-six tortoises born and raised in captivity in Monaco have been brought to Senegal as a first step to returning to the wild. They are African spurred tortoises -- a species that inhabits the southern rim of the Sahara.

After a gruelling trip by air and road, several dozen endangered African tortoises groggily poked their heads out of their shells to take a look at their ancestral homeland.

The 46 tortoises that travelled from Monaco's Oceanographic Museum to the Tortoise Village of Noflaye, about 35 kilometers from Senegal's capital Dakar, are all youngsters -- the oldest are only eight years old.

Their parents -- six tortoises, which stayed behind in Monaco -- were a gift to Prince Albert II in 2011 from former Senegalese president Amadou Toumani Toure.

Known by the Latin name of Centrochelys sulcata, they are the world's third-largest tortoise species.

Some tortoises in captivity can weigh nearly 100 kilograms and live as long as a century.

Listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species is under pressure from trafficking and overgrazing.

After quarantine, the young tortoises will "learn the ABCs" of life in the wild for a few months, said Diagne after their arrival on Tuesday.

Once they have mastered survival skills like finding their own food and digging out a burrow, they will be transferred to a nature reserve to the north-west.

At first, they will live in a fenced-off area for their protection. Later, the fence will be removed, and they will be on their own.

"Fauna is always leaving Africa, always being exported," said Diagne. "It is very rare for it to come back."

(IUCN), the species is under pressure from trafficking and overgrazing.

There are "at most" 150 African spurred tortoises currently living in the wild in Senegal, said Tomas Diagne, director of the African Chelonian Institute (ACI), a conservation group.

Within 30 years, they could die out, leaving only specimens living as pets or in private breeding farms, he said.

"If I were a tortoise, I wouldn't want to live or be born in West Africa, or Africa, period," he said.