We are pleased to announce that the TSA has hired Herilala Randriamahazo, a long – time tortoise conservation biologist, as our full-time Malagasy Tortoise Conservation Coordinator.
He started on September 1 and will work out of the office of the Henry Doorly Zoo’s Madagascar Biodiversity Program in the capitol city of Antananarivo. HDZ will provide him with office support including internet and phone. Herilala brings a lot to the table politically because his reputation is well established in Antananarivo, both within the Government and the Conservation NGO community. He speaks fluent English and Japanese (he received his PhD from the University of Kyoto) as well as several dialects of Malagash. He is a dynamic speaker and able to command a room and chair meetings with confidence.
The situation with Madagascar’s endemic tortoise fauna has reached crisis status and for two species – the Ploughshare (Astrochelys yniphora) and Radiated (A. radiata) -their survival outlook in the wild is considered tenuous, certainly worse than at any time in their modern history. All four tortoises – including two dwarf species (genus Pyxis) – are now ranked Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List – and face unprecedented threats to their survival. The 2009 breakdown of the central government – and subsequent loss of international aid – has resulted in a lack of enforcement capacity for wildlife laws. Poaching is rampant for both species – A. yniphora for the high-end international pet trade and A. radiata for food (adults) and Asian pet markets (juveniles). This topic was the focus of a full day session at the recent TSA conference in Orlando, and brought together speakers and biologists – including a large contingent from Madagascar – to address this situation. The session was followed by a workshop that sought to find solutions to the current crisis.
Aside from the political tasks of negotiating Ploughshare Tortoise issues in the capital, Herilala will assume a leading role in coordinating a response directed at protecting core populations of the Radiated Tortoise. The current strategy – developed at the recent Orlando workshop – will seek to strengthen enforcement capacity to protect important source populations (such as at Cap St. Marie), while encouraging local communities to become involved in preventing poaching. Establishing a strong link between tourism (revenue) and the presence of tortoises will be crucial in this regard. Three community based programs – in conjunction with two protected areas – are being proposed or are in progress, and Herilala will work to ensure coordination and consistency among the various groups in their approach. The failure of conservation NGOs to achieve success at the community level in the southern spiny forests can historically be attributed to a lack of follow through. We must maintain a consistent presence in the south if we are to be effective in maintaining the support of local villages in protecting tortoises and we are hopeful that hiring Herilala is the first step in that direction. The TSA would like to thank Conservation International and the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group for their support of this position.