About 260 million years ago the earliest ancestor of turtles and tortoises, a bulbous reptile known as Eunotosaurus africanus, emerged from an egg in South Africa’s Karoo Basin. Its evolutionary descendants spread around the globe, giving rise to the turtles and tortoises living today.
“Africa is the homeland of the turtle, yet they are totally overlooked here,” says conservationist and National Geographic Explorer Tomas Diagne. In his home country of Senegal and across much of Africa, habitat loss and overharvesting have imperiled many species of turtles—but little attention has been paid to their plight, he says. Determined to change that, Diagne has devoted the past 25 years to studying, rescuing, captive breeding, and reintroducing threatened and endangered tortoises and turtles in Senegal.