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Tomas Diagne

Africa’s turtle saviour

Published in 1998clockTime to read: 45s
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A visionary naturalist, Tomas Diagne observed that the African spurred tortoise, which can live for more than 150 years, was becoming rare and decided to save it.

locationSenegal

When young animal lover Tomas Diagne began collecting tortoises at home in Senegal in the early 1990s, little did he know that one day he would become a world expert. Today, his pioneering conservation work to return the Sulcata tortoise to the wild has proved so successful it has spurred him to expand his vision across Africa.

People think that I am only interested in tortoises, but there is no one species that should take priority – it is the whole ecosystem that counts.

Diagne, who chairs the African group of the global partnership TSA (Turtle Survival Alliance), won a Rolex Award in 1998 for his plan to establish a “village” in Noflaye for Senegal’s endangered tortoise species, in particular the giant Sulcata.

Having handed the Noflaye facility over to his co-workers, he is now leading a range of field projects. Since 2004 he has been involved in founding a community-based wildlife reserve in northern Senegal to protect the critical habitats of the Adanson’s mud terrapin. But the project closest to his heart is the continent’s first organization for the study and conservation of all African turtle species, the African Chelonian Institute. “It’s vital to pass on knowledge,” said Diagne, in 2011, “to exchange our experiences, and share all we’ve learned.”

Diagne is writing a book about West African turtles, tortoises and terrapins, and one day hopes to complete his great work, a definitive encyclopaedia on his beloved subject.

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