Herilala Randriamahazo (Director, TSA Madagascar) reported another large tortoise confiscation this week at the Ivato airport in Antananarivo. On Sunday, May 11, 521 tortoises – all juveniles – were seized prior to being loaded on a Kenya Aiways flight to Nairobi; the smuggler ran away when his name was called by the information desk and was not apprehended. The shipment included 512 Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and nine Ploughshare Tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) that were placed with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) for initial care and safe keeping.
Ploughshare tortoises, locally known as Angonoka, continue to be targeted by wildlife smugglers and Herilala believes that these animals are wild caught. Recognized as the most endangered tortoise in the world, wild populations are being decimated by the international black market trade. The future for this beautiful tortoise is indeed bleak unless this trade can be brought under control. According to Herilala, “the trafficking activity is always well-organized and the smuggler spends no more than two days in town, arriving one day and departing two days later. This indicates that someone is holding the animals in Tana until the smuggler comes for them.”
The TSA is being called on to handle an increasing number of confiscated tortoises recently. Just since March 4, 655 Radiated, 27 Ploughshare and 15 Spider Tortoises have been placed in TSA’s custody. The TSA has made a concerted effort in recent years to shine a light on the poaching crisis in Madagascar, using grassroots community outreach and education programs. The increase in confiscations is a testament to the increased awareness of the problem, which is exciting, but coordinating the rescue efforts for confiscated tortoises presents a definite challenge, to say the least! Food, medical treatment and basic husbandry for these tortoises, many of which are in poor health after their ordeal, can be very costly. Donations to the Madagascar program to help offset some of these unforeseen costs would be greatly appreciated.