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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Spain fires claim rare tortoises
A Mediterranean spur-thigh tortoise
Mediterranean forests are one of the spur-thigh tortoise's natural habitats
Thousands of rare tortoises have died in forest fires that have raged across south-eastern Spain, fanned by high temperatures and warm winds.

At least 2,400 tortoises died during one fire in nature reserves in the Murcia region, the Global Nature Foundation group says.

Some 300 hectares (741 acres) of Mediterranean forest, the reptile's natural habitat, were burnt.

The foundation says it could take up to 20 years to restore the habitat.

Blazes in southern Spain and northern Portugal are said to be some of the worst seen in a decade.

Heat

The fire in the Murcia region of semi-arid and low-lying forests spanned an area 20km across (12.5 miles) at its widest point.

Juan Luis Castanedo of Global Nature Foundation, which promotes and protects 67 nature reserves in the region, told BBC News Online that tourists were to blame for accidentally starting the fire.

"Some tourists were camping near the reserve. One of their gas canisters exploded, sparking the fire, and with the wind - it just spread," he said of the blaze which flared on 1 August and lasted 17 hours.

Normally, between 20 and 40 of the Mediterranean spur-thigh tortoises live in each hectare of forest.

A total of 41,084 hectares (101,000 acres) have burnt in Spain since the beginning of the year, some 9,000 hectares (22,200 acres) more than over the same period last year, according to the environment ministry.

The great majority of the fires, it says, are caused by humans.




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