by Herilala Randriamahazo and Heather Lowe
On October 10, two Asian passengers on an Air Madagascar flight to Bangkok, Thailand and Guangzhou, China were arrested at Ivato International Airport after attempting to smuggle four suitcases full of 569 Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) through customs. This is a record number seizure for this airport in the capital city of Antananarivo. After the confiscation, the Malagasy Forestry Authority mandated the Turtle Survival Alliance to look after the baby tortoises. Of the group, three were already dead and ten are currently in very poor condition.
This is the second major tortoise confiscation in the past two weeks and is already overwhelming our resources to care for them properly. This underscores the critical need for another regional rescue center in the south where tortoises can be moved immediately following seizure for quarantine, treatment and long-term care prior to their release back into protected areas.
Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA Malagasy Tortoise Conservation Coordinator) has been scrambling ever since the confiscation to care for the tortoises, along with the help of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP) staff. The tortoises are currently being housed at the offices shared by the TSA and the MBP in Antananarivo, but there are not sufficient facilities available there to house the massive influx of animals. Right now, many are making their home on the terrace out of necessity! They will be kept there until the investigation against the poachers is complete and the TSA is given permission to move forward with reintroduction plans that will send the tortoises back to the spiny forests in the south.
In the meantime, plans are underway to construct additional pens on site and to transform a part of the existing garden to better manage the tortoises. Part-time keepers will have to be brought on board to assist with the massive job of caring with such a large group until their eventual release. If you are interested in making a donation toward these efforts (anything will help!) please click here or contact Heather Lowe for more details.