At the Athénas Centre, you’ll find everything when it comes to wildlife. Hedgehogs, storks, lynxes, servals, eagles, salamanders… and even baby bats, which are cared for before being released back into the wild. For this new project supported by Equestrio Foundation it’s the Hermann tortoise who will be in the limelight.
The Athénas Centre, the ER dedicated to wildlife.
For almost 30 years, Gilles Moyne, Lorane Mouzon-Moyne and their team have been running a highly efficient emergency service in the heart of the Jura. Open to all, as long as you are a wildlife specimen, it takes in and cares for animals in distress collected by a network of 290 inter-regional volunteers before returning them to their natural habitat. This model has been working like a charm, since the centre’s activity has boomed in recent years, with now almost 4,500 animals of 220 different species taken in annually.
An efficient partnership
The Athénas Centre is also the only facility in France specializing in felids. The refuge takes in lynxes and other breeds of wild cats, often victims of trafficking or collisions. To improve the quality of care, Equestrio Foundation financed a video surveillance system in 2021 enabling the carers to observe the lynxes in their enclosures, while keeping interaction with humans, often a source of stress, to a minimum.
In keeping with Equestrio Foundation’s commitment to supporting our partner associations over the long term, we are now working with the Athénas Centre on a new project for precious little creatures that are a little more approachable than wild cats: Hermann tortoises.
Saving Hermann Tortoises
Hermann tortoises are currently one of the most endangered reptiles in Europe and worldwide, and the only species of tortoise living in the wild in France – in the Var, particularly across the Maures massif, and in Corsica. It is also found in many Mediterranean countries, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the Balkans. Surprisingly (and worryingly), it is also seen in Burgundy, Franche Comté and the north of the Ain department.
As a result, the Athénas Centre gets to take in between 30 and 50 Hermann’s tortoises a year, either accidentally discovered by individuals or coming from illegal trafficking.
Turtles may be used to carrying their whole homes on their backs, but they still need to stay connected to their roots to survive. As with each of the animals it rescues, and in line with its unwavering objective of safeguarding biodiversity, the Athénas Centre has set out to find solutions to enable them to return to where they belong: in the wild, in the south of France.
DNA tests to identify candidates for release
However, a few precautions need to be taken before the transfer. In other words, and this is a great pity, carers must make sure to repair the biological damage inflicted by … other people.
The phenomenon of illegal possession of tortoises by private individuals leads to a high rate of hybridization between species, and it is therefore vital to ensure the genetic state of each individual before taking this operation further.
The Athénas Centre must hence first determine which individuals are hybrids and which can be released without threatening the survival of the species. To this end, the teams are working in partnership with the SOPTOM (an association specialising in turtle conservation in the VAR) and a laboratory in charge of carrying out DNA tests.
All candidates for release should be tested before hibernation.
Equestrio Foundation’s funding
For the tortoises…
We are delighted to contribute to this operation with a donation of €7,470 towards the initial tests aimed at calibrating the DNA markers, which will then be used to test the next turtles collected along the way.
… without forgetting the lynx!
And to make sure no one is jealous at the Centre, we are also continuing our support to the felids with a funding of €2,800 for the purchase of photo traps (including 4 GSM traps) used to search for and locate young lynxes in distress as well as to track those released through visual control (as you saw in the last episode of Equestrio Foundation in Action!).
While it is often said that “Nature does things well”, we should also remember that it never does anything by chance. As reflected by this project, when human intervention corrupts these precious balances, repairing them can prove to be particularly testing. This brings to mind another wise saying: “Better prevent than cure”? Food for thought…
 The SOPTOM is also the referent body in charge of the National Action Plan for the safeguarding of the species.