Sedgefield Tortoise Rescue Squad co-ordinator Margaret Underwood says Angulate Tortoises have a special place in the hearts of Sedgefielders. Not only are they the emblem of the garden route village, they are also protected by the Rescue Squad.
The 30-man squad of volunteers collects the animals from proposed building sites and relocates them to suitable new habitat.
Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA) member Alf Siebert started the rescue team in 1995.
Tortoises and their numbers have been depleting since development started increasing in the town.
Building contractors contact the rescue squad 48 hours before they start clearing a plot for development to allow time for the team to assemble.
The tortoises are found by members of the squad walking in a line, searching under shrubs and fynbos. The tortoises are picked up and placed in lined boxes and taken to their new homes.
Relocation was however becoming more of a problem as large pieces of habitat was being destroyed by development. Less and less suitable habitat is being found for them and it has become necessary to drive further and further away from Sedgefield to find new homes for them.
Local conservation student and researcher Taniia (cor) Strauss said nature reserves were also not keen to take urban tortoises for fear of transfer of parasites. Tortoises are also fiercely territorial. Animals in conservation areas are managed as a whole ecosystem and would not necessarily tolerate infiltration from outsiders. A possible answer lay with sustainable development where contractors only cleared areas where actual building was taking place, leaving the surrounding property as untouched as possible to maintain as much of the habitat as possible.
The Sedgefield Tortoise Rescue Squad suggest that homeowners should also leave as much of the local vegetation in their gardens, which would boost the local eco-system significantly.
The Rescue Squad also rescue injured tortoises and lead campaigns against the animals being held as pets.
It is illegal to remove tortoises from their natural habitat, mainly because they are unlikely to survive in different climates and vegetation. It is a continuous education process but the Sedgefield Tortoise Rescue Squad think it is worth it - the tortoises are special and it is imperative their survival is ensured.