Massive Poaching Bust
Turtle Survival Alliance Launches Rescue Mission to Nearly 11,000 Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoises Discovered in Massive Poaching Bust
Animal experts from AZA-accredited Zoos and Aquariums Dispatched to Madagascar to Conduct the Rescue
On Tuesday, April 10, more than 10,000 critically endangered Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) were discovered by local police in a non-descript private residence in Toliara, Madagascar. The floors of virtually every room in the house were covered with tortoises that had no access to food or water. As of Friday, April 13, hundreds had died from dehydration and illness. Experts from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and several zoos and aquariums have been dispatched with medical supplies, and will administer medical care for the sick or injured tortoises and general animal care.
It is not known how long the tortoises have been in the home, some arrests have been made, the local police in partnership with Directeur Regional de l'Environment, de 'Ecologie et des Forets (DREEF), the conservation law enforcement authorities in Madagascar, continue their investigation. It is believed that the tortoises were collected for the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia where the tortoises' highly-domed shell featuring a brilliant star pattern makes them highly prized. It is estimated that Radiated Tortoise populations in the wild have declined more than 80 percent in the last 30 years. At this rate of decline, it is estimated that the Radiated Tortoise could be functionally extinct in the wild in less than two decades.
Currently, triage efforts are being led by a five-member team from the Turtle Survival Alliance's (TSA) Madagascar staff, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Villages des Tortues, who have been working non-stop after relocating the surviving tortoises 18 miles north at SOPTOM-Villages des Tortues, a 17-acre private wildlife facility in Ifaty. While there, each tortoise will receive initial in-processing, health evaluations, hydration and triage.
"I don't think the word overwhelming comes close to describing what the Turtle Survival Alliance is dealing with here," said Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance. "We were already caring for 8,000 tortoises in Madagascar, now that number has more than doubled overnight."
Participating organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) include Abilene Zoo, Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Dallas Zoo, Dickerson Park Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, Fort Worth Zoo, New England Aquarium, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, San Diego Zoo Global, Shedd Aquarium, Tennessee Aquarium, Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, Tulsa Zoo, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Zoo Knoxville, Zoo Atlanta. In addition to these AZA organizations, the TSA's efforts are being supported by global conservation partners Aktionsgemeinschaft Artenschutz (AGA) e. V., Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, ProWildlife v. E., SOPTOM-Village Des Tortues, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, and the Turtle & Tortoise Preservation Group and the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand plus a growing number of private donors.
"We are in 'an all hands on deck' mentality right now." said Hudson. "Fortunately, due to our strong relationship with the zoo community the TSA is well positioned to respond to crises such as this."
"The immediate response of more than 20 AZA-accredited facilities, offering their expertise and assistance to care for thousands of tortoises in Madagascar, is proof we will take whatever action is necessary to address illegal wildlife trade and other threats that put the world's most vulnerable species at risk of extinction." said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. "Through programs like SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, AZA and its members are engaging in critical, coordinated, and needed conservation work."
Given the scale of the rescue efforts, TSA expects to send additional teams of veterinary experts from the United States to Madagascar over the coming weeks and months.
"The support we continue to receive from the global conservation community has been incredible, and we are extremely thankful for the multitude of individuals and organizations that have come forward with donations and supplies." said Hudson. "Yet, the long-term financial impacts to our Madagascar program is potentially crippling."
Currently, the best way for the public to assist the TSA in their rescue efforts is to make a tax-deductible donation to the Turtle Survival Alliance