Hunting, illegal animal trade and the destruction of their habitat: the red-footed tortoise was considered extinct in Argentina. Now 40 animals have been released in a national park.

Environmentalists are releasing 40 red-footed turtles into the wild in northern Argentina.

Ten specimens have already been released in the El Impenetrable National Park, the remaining animals are to follow in the coming days after a quarantine and acclimatization period, said the organization Rewilding Argentina on World Turtle Day on Monday. The red-footed tortoise is therefore the second largest tortoise in South America and can weigh around 20 kilograms. In Argentina it was considered extinct. In the reportedly largest transfer of animals for a reintroduction project between two countries in South America, the 40 specimens were recently brought from Paraguay to Argentina.

“The red-footed turtle has disappeared from Argentina for a variety of reasons, including hunting and the illegal pet trade,” said Sebastián Di Martino of Rewilding Argentina. “But the large-scale destruction of the Chaco forest, their habitat, is also a cause of the extinction. The last known population in Argentina lived in a forest that was cleared to grow soybeans.”

Rewilding Argentina runs projects in several national parks in Argentina, including jaguars. The organization goes back to the US entrepreneur and environmentalist Douglas Tompkins. The former boss of the fashion brands The North Face and Esprit bought up huge lands in Argentina and Chile and turned them into protected areas. In 2015 he died in a kayaking accident in Patagonia.