Photos: Monaco’s Princes and Princesses prep tortoises for transfer to Africa

Hereditary Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella have celebrated their 8th birthday in style with work helping to transfer Monaco’s endangered tortoises to West Africa and a multi-themed birthday party.

On Saturday 10th December, the twins and their parents Prince Albert and Princess Charlene were invited to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco to help in the transportation of 46 young turtles for travel to the Turtle Village of Noflaye, in Senegal, as part of a population reinforcement project. This was the first part of a three-year programme to return the tortoises to the wild.

The Oceanographic Museum has housed several African spurred tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata), the third largest land tortoise in the world, since 2012. Seven specimens were offered by the former Malian President, Amadou Toumani Touré, to Prince Albert II of Monaco during an official trip. These tortoises, from a breeding centre in Mali, were then entrusted to Robert Calcagno, general director of the Oceanographic Institute, to raise awareness among visitors about the protection of this endangered species. The herbivorous reptiles had taken up residence in the L’île aux Tortues, a space specially designed for them on the panoramic terrace of the Museum, where they have since evolved in an 80m² landscaped enclosure.

“Protecting animal species, both on land and at sea, and making them known to the general public is a major challenge for the future,” explained Robert Calcagno. “Having these spurred tortoises, an animal now threatened, has enabled their reproduction while raising awareness among visitors of their need for preservation.”

Prince Albert and Princess Charlene took part in the “packaging” of the tortoises for travel, photo courtesy Oceanographic Institute of Monaco

Several have given birth to 49 juvenile tortoises and, now the enclosure is not large enough to accommodate them all, the Oceanographic Institute has joined forces with the African Institute for the Study and Protection of Turtles (African Chelonian Institute – ACI), which has set up a population reinforcement program for 46 of them.

The tortoises will first be received by the Centre for the Protection of Turtles in Senegal – Village des Tortues, before being introduced into the Koyli Alpha Nature Reserve in the northwest of the country where they will be monitored for two years.

Prince Jacques decorating the transport crate, photo courtesy Oceanographic Institute of Monaco

Tomas Diagne, a world-renowned turtle expert and winner of the Rolex Prize for Entrepreneurship in 1998, has been working for more than 30 years to save these endangered species in Senegal and West Africa. “This operation is exemplary in our eyes because in Africa, turtles are almost always exported to supply international trade. It is therefore a rare and beneficial exception to see them return to strengthen already weakened wild populations,” said Tomas Diagne.

After a first stage of “conditioning” at the Oceanographic Museum, during which the 46 juveniles were placed in a set of six specially designed crates, the tortoises were transported from Monaco to Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport, and eventually to Dakar.

Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella celebrated their 8th birthday with their parents on 10th December. Photo credit: Eric Mathon, Prince’s Palace

On Saturday evening, the twins celebrated their birthday together with their parents Prince Albert and Princess Charlene.

A photo shared by the Palace shows a game theme for the little prince, complete with Mario and Sonic birthday cake, and a Japanese theme for the little princess, who looked adorable dressed up in traditional Japanese costume.

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All photos courtesy Oceanographic Institute of Monaco