Five months ago, tragedy struck the TSA’s Tortoise Conservation Center (TCC), the lynchpin of TSA’s efforts to restore wild populations of Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) to the wilds of Madagascar with animals confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. Early Thursday morning, September 26, 2019, a fire broke out in the main office and living quarters for our senior staff there. With the staff unable to control it, the fire consumed the facility, which served as the operations and power distribution center for the TCC, enabling essential security and communications functions.
The fire left the TCC in a vulnerable and incomplete state of operations and time was of the essence to restore infrastructure and ensure the safety and well-being of our staff and the thousands of tortoises who reside on the center’s grounds. With an outpouring of generous support from the conservation community, efforts are well underway to restore and expand this facility.
Aside from our newly upgraded facility for confiscated tortoises in Lavavolo, and our headquarters in Antananarivo, the TCC is key to implementing TSA’s Confiscation to Reintroduction Strategy, a comprehensive plan to return these endangered tortoises to the wild. With our pilot “soft-release” scheduled for this year, we feared the fire at the TCC would setback our action plan. It hasn’t, thanks to a rapid response from our community of supporters.
With a focus on the future, and restoration efforts in full swing, staff at the TCC are currently in Phase II of the first official release of Radiated Tortoises under our comprehensive Confiscation to Reintroduction Strategy. Following the first stage – assessments and selection of potential release sites – 1,000 tortoises have been pre-selected for reintroduction and moved into a separate forested enclosure. Here, they await health assessments that begin this week. Lead by Dr. Bonnie Raphael (Wildlife Conservation Society) and Dr. Maris Brenn-White (St. Louis Zoo Wildcare Institute), these assessments will confirm the fitness of the tortoises for their return to the wild.
The TSA wants to acknowledge all of the generous donors for their recent support in response to the fire. Your support has allowed us to rapidly rebuild the TCC and restore solar power, which is essential for the veterinary team’s medical evaluations, screening procedures, and sample storage. THANK YOU for helping us through this crisis and allowing us to get back to the business of saving Madagascar’s imperiled tortoises. Stay tuned for further updates.
For their significant contributions we thank: