Conservation Dogs & Drones for the protection of endangered sea turtles in Cabo Verde

Turtle Foundation
Published: 07 June 2023
Last edited: 07 June 2023
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Summary

Cabo Verde is home of an endangered population of loggerhead turtles. The sea turtles are still being poached for their meat.

In order to further reduce poaching, a new project was launched in 2018 to develop and implement alternative conservation methods on the island of Boa Vista. Turtle Foundation (and the local implementing partner Fundação Tartaruga) provide extensive professional, financial, human, logistical and technical assistance to support the authorities' law enforcement efforts against sea turtle poaching. The project includes the use of protection dogs and modern night vision technology (drones and binoculars with thermal imaging technology) and their professional application within the framework of coordinated operational concepts and strategies. The aim is to deter poachers and, if this has not helped, to support prosecution by the authorities. This project was supported by the European Union and the Organisation of Africa, Carribean and pacific states through BIOPAMA program.

 

Classifications

Region
West and Central Africa
Scale of implementation
National
Ecosystem
Beach
Coastal desert
Coral reef
Desert ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Theme
Islands
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Species management
One Health
Wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflicts
Challenges
Poaching
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge

Location

Boa Vista, Cape Verde

Challenges

Before the Turtle Foundation started its conservation project, 1,200 turtles were killed on the beaches of Boa Vista in 2007 alone. Conventional beach patrols have already brought about a considerable decrease in hunting, which is traditionally rooted in the rural population and has been considered illegal poaching since the legal protection of sea turtles in 1987. However, economic challenges like financial incentives from the meat, which is now traded as an expensive delicacy, and insufficient protection in some areas still led to the killing of almost 5% of nesting females in 2017.

Beneficiaries

  • 7 local rangers, who have year-round employment and receive regular training
  • The local law enforcement agencies
  • The local community benefits indirectly through the conservation of an emblematic species

How do the building blocks interact?

At the beginning of the project, the dog unit and a drone unit were set up and trained in parallel. With all the good initial successes of the project, it soon became clear that a lot of planning, organisational and practical work was still needed to meet the increasingly complex demands on the team and to put the successes on a sustainable footing.

 

While both project approaches were experimental and new to sea turtle conservation in the beginning, the strategies and procedures have continued to improve over the past years and we have merged both the dog and drone teams into one concept. The good relations and the trustful cooperation with the local authorities have been further deepened and the team members with their different competences have been welded together into an experienced and effective unit to fight sea turtle poaching.

Impacts

With the combination of the conservation dogs and the drone technology, we developed a new operational strategy to prevent poaching. This improved the efficiency of patrols as well as reduced dense and expensive beach patrols. The dog and drone team is now patrolling 66 km of beach in 5 protected areas on Boa Vista island.

 

In the first year of project initiation, the rate of recorded killed turtles decreased by nearly 90% from 4.5% to 0.5%. The rate continued to decline and was 0.3% in the 2022 nesting season. Further, three poachers were arrested by the police as a result of the Sea Turtle Dog & Drone Team's activity. Various aspects may be involved in the significant reduction of poaching in recent years, such as a legal tightening of penalties for poaching and expansion of NGO community programs. However, we have learned from direct sources such as the testimony of former poachers that the significantly increased risk of being caught regularly deterred potential offenders from their intentions.

While many of the project's approaches were experimental and new to sea turtle conservation, strategies and operations have improved significantly in the past five years. Good relations and trustful cooperation with the local authorities were further deepened and the team members with their different competences welded together to form an experienced and effective anti-sea turtle poaching unit.

Story

Turtle Foundation

Adilson Ramos is a Capeverdean and coordinator of the dog and drone team. He tells us how far the team has already helped to prevent poaching: "During the 2021 nesting season, three poachers were arrested on Boa Vista, involved in two cases of poaching. In both cases, the Dog & Drone team was involved in reporting and solving the case; the second case was also the first time poachers were directly arrested during an operation."

 

Adilson continues: "The first case occurred in July 2021 in northern Boa Vista. A freshly killed loggerhead turtle was found in the morning by our rangers on the beach and reported to the Dog & Drone team. An investigation revealed that a man was selling turtle meat in the village of João Galego. I called the police immediately and the man was arrested. The second case occurred on Morabeza beach in the west of Boa Vista in August 2021. During an operation, the security guard of a restaurant informed about suspicious persons who had passed by some time before. Immediately, the drone was sent into the air and one person was identified in suspicious activity. Our team approached the location of the person, who then tried to hide in the dunes. However, the person was found and the police were called, who arrested the person. A freshly killed turtle was also found at this location. Later, a second person involved in the case was also arrested. As it was suspected that the perpetrators tried to hide evidence during their escape attempts, a follow-up search with the dogs was carried out in the morning of the following day. In the process, a buried knife was found, which could be clearly attributed to the crime and the perpetrators. The perpetrators were later brought before the court and sentenced to fines."

Adilson reports that it is cases like this that motivate him and his team to stand up for the turtles and put an end to poaching in Cape Verde for good.

Contributed by

bartoschek_42907's picture

Janin Bartoschek Turtle Foundation