In the two weeks since our last update, the TSA Madagscar team deployed to assist the more than 7,000 Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) seized from wildlife traffickers in southwestern Madagascar have worked with steadfast resolve. In a remote village near the town of Betioky, veterinarian Dr. Ny Aina Tiana Rakotoarisoa and keepers Avimasy, José, and Tsito, with support from local volunteers and the government’s Ministry of Environment, Ecology, and Forests (MEEF), continued health assessments and provided medical and husbandry care for the long-suffering animals as they awaited the relief of transport to the well-equipped facilities of the TSA and our French partner SOPTOM.
The first wave of that relief came on Wednesday, October 31st as a large truck, generously funded by WWF Madagascar and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, arrived in the small town to transport the first consignment of tortoises to our long-term care facility in Lavavolo. In the wee hours of the morning of November 1st, 1,770 arrived at their new home. Over the course of the next week, three more shipments of tortoises, funded by the TSA, and totaling 5,306 animals, found their way to our Lavavolo Tortoise Center (LTC). Another 2,000 animals were transported separately to the coastal village of Ifaty, where the staff of SOPTOM’s Village des Tortues will care for them.
Upon arriving at our LTC, the respective shipments of tortoises were unloaded and “checked in” by TSA Madagascar and MEEF staff. There they were promptly given post-shipment soaks to rehydrate them following their transport. Succeeding in-processing, the thousands of tortoises were appropriately distributed by size-class to immense enclosures built into the native spiny forest habitat. To support the operation, Christel Griffioen, manager of our Tortoise Conservation Center in Tsihombe, traveled to Lavavolo to assist with health assessments, treatments, husbandry, and training the new care staff and veterinarian until Dr. Rakotoarisoa could join in Lavavolo. Tortoises that were sick, or who were deemed in need of veterinary assessment were separated into quarantine pens adjacent to our new veterinary clinic there, where Drs. Rakotoarisoa and Jonia Rasolofoniaina could provide treatment. This clinic, along with a food preparation area, guard and management facilities, and extensive enclosure containment walls, was erected over the course of this past spring and summer in response to April’s confiscation of over 10,000 Radiated Tortoises. More than 8,600 tortoises from that confiscation also reside at the same facility, however, in separate forested enclosures to reduce cross-contamination.
Since the tortoises’ arrival at the LTC, our veterinarians have treated 356 individual tortoises, with approximately 100 tortoises receiving treatment regimens per day. A testament to the diligence of the veterinarians and the keepers, this group of confiscated tortoises has demonstrated an incredible 96% survival rate. Despite their greatest efforts, a total of 320 of these precious animals have perished since their seizure on October 24th, a reminder of the travesty wrought by wildlife trafficking. For the thousands of surviving tortoises, however, a new life will begin at the LTC, fittingly as the life-giving rainy season begins. As southern Madagascar moves into their summer wet season (Nov – Apr), the tortoises will see renewed activity throughout their forested enclosures. Correspondingly, their appetites will continue to increase. Currently, the 5,306 tortoises are consuming an astounding 400 kg (818 lbs.) of cactus pads and sweet potato and bean leaves per day.
With the combined number of animals from this year’s April and October confiscations, the LTC alone now houses nearly 14,000 critically endangered Radiated Tortoises rescued from the international black-market trade. To ensure proper care, veterinary assistance, and security measures at the LTC, the TSA has hired 9 new tortoise care technicians, 6 security guards, and a new veterinarian. With the addition of the hundreds of kilograms of food necessary to feed the tortoises per day, water, and continued infrastructure expansion, we project our annual expenses for this vital facility at roughly $70,000 per year, or $5,800 per month. We are indebted to all of the individuals and organizations who have already helped make the Lavavolo Tortoise Center a safe-haven for Radiated Tortoises seized from illegal trade.
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For more information, please contact Jordan Gray, Communications and Outreach Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org