Kelonia, a real turtle sanctuary.
There are countless center’s around the world that exploit animals to make profit. Often people attend these center’s unknowing that they are doing more harm than well. This is not at all the case at Kelonia, a once breading farm transformed into a care center with an incredible outreach program. During our stay in Reunion Island, we had the chance to follow their healthcare team, see the information center and learn more about the current menaces that the sea and land turtles are facing.
The care center has many turtles that are struggling with various problems such as eyesight problems, genetic deformations, shark attack wounds, broken shells due to boats, etc. Turtles requiring more intense treatment are placed in individual pools, containing clean salt water. The individual pools were more like mini hospital rooms for these turtles. These turtles are heavily monitored and follow specific meal plans and medical care (vaccines, medications and monitoring).
While we were with the team we got to observe the administration and preparation of the medication, the feeding of a vegetarian meal and also the measuring of the land turtle weight. While at the care center, we got to meet Quasimodo, a turtle who was born with a genetic deformation causing excessive growth. We also met Vigette, a tough little turtle that survived a shark attack and had actually arrived at the center two days prior to our arrival. No matter what turtle it was, or the difficulties it faces, the healthcare team is ready for each situation.
“The main problem in Reunion Island is the reduction of lay sites for the turtles. Historically, Reunion Island was an important lay sites, with more than 10 or 20 000 females laying their eggs each year. This has disappeared in a century and a half” explains Stephane Ciccione, director of Kelonia.
Urbanization and deforestation of the littoral zone has reduced the amount of turtles to the point where specialists have confirmed that there is only one turtle, Emma, that comes to the shores of Reunion Island to lay her eggs every three years. The large plants that we find further along the beach reduces any sonore nuisances and lights from the local townships. It also creates shade to help regulate the temperature of the sand which promotes incubation. These plants are also very important as they release a certain odour which is perceived by the sea turtles and attracts them towards these beaches.
It is important to note that the sea turtles are primarily in danger due to the loss of the ecosystem (in Reunion Island, it is due to the loss of vegetation). This is why Kelonia replants, since 1999, vegetation in the littoral zone. After over 60 years of absence, a turtle now comes to Saint-Leu to lay her eggs due to these efforts. Kelonia’s new objectives are to now replant over 5 hectares of the littoral zone within the next 3 years, which is funded by the many partners of the center.
The opening of Kelonia in 2004 has also changed the local mentality. There is a lot less poaching, more and more people being involved in local actions which allows for a positive future for these species on the beaches of this island.
During our time at the center, one turtle arrived due to a shark attack another one was strong enough to be released. It was released about three days after the arrival of Vigette. We are happy to see that the team at Kelonia really promote healthy recovery with the sole purpose to release them back into their natural habitat when they are healthy enough.