Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA’s full-time Malagasy Tortoise Conservation Coordinator) has only been at work in his new position for a little over a month. However, he has already been able to assist with the apprehension of radiated tortoise poachers – saving a number of tortoises before they were killed.
A meeting of several conservation organizations was held in the village of Lavavolo on September 24 at which the following organizations were represented: Vondron’Olona Ifotony MIAHI (Miaro ny Ala sy Horake Itampolo), Madagascar National Parks (MNP), Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP), World Wildlife Fund and Turtle Survival Alliance.
During the meeting, the participants were informed by a local citizen of the presence of tortoise poachers in the forested zone managed by the VOI – MIAHI. The radiated tortoise is a species that is considered to be “taboo” by local Mahafaly villagers – meaning that it is taboo to eat them – and the villagers have recently become very engaged in the protection of this species. The group made the decision to inform the competent authority of Itampolo (the local law enforcement agency).
That afternoon, the mixed team of six civilians from the conservation organizations and three policemen, led by the Brigade commander of the National Gendarmerie of Itampolo (warrant officer Ratsara Ferdinand) left in search of the poachers’ camp located approximately at 5km northwest of the village of Lavavolo on the coast, according to the informer.
By using camouflage in their camp, the poachers avoided detection for some time. However, they were detected later that evening after lighting a fire to prepare their dinner. Three poachers were in camp when discovered and attempted to escape, even brandishing weapons with blades. In the end, two were apprehended and authorities believe that they may know the hometown of the third.
In total, 48 radiated tortoises had been taken. One female had already been cooked and eaten, but the rest were still alive and all appear to be less than ten years old. The tortoises were attached by strings to pieces of wood and were packed in bags according to size. Pieces of egg shell were also detected. Based on their responses to questioning, the poachers had just arrived the day before, but it appeared that they were prepared for a long stay. In the camp, they had enough supplies (rice, coffee, tobacco) to last for at least ten days.
Etsilika Mr. Jean Felix, Mayor of the CR Itampolo reiterated the importance of collaboration between different partners, while thanking the members of the conservation team in the field. For him, this act perpetrated by the eaters of turtles is a crime against the tribe of Mahafaly because it is an insult to the “taboo.”
The village of Lavavolo (just under 80 households) benefits from technical and financial support from partners in social and economic development including the Small Grant Program of UNDP, WWF Maintso Tanana, Development Support of MNP, and Integrated Program of MBP. 2010 has been officially dedicated to biodiversity, as it relates to development and poverty reduction in Lavavolo and this case demonstrates the dedication to that message by local villagers and authorities.