by Heather Lowe
196 Critically Endangered tortoises were seized at Ivato International Airport on the night of July 24. The group included 168 Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata), 27 Ploughshare Tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and one Spider Tortoise (Pyxis). According to the Eaux & Forêts staff at Ivato Airport, a car brought three suitcases directly to the plane, circumventing security screening. The person in charge of loading the luggage into the plane suggested that the bags be checked for safety purposes, at which time the tortoises were discovered.
Two passengers were arrested, one of whom is already well-known by customs personnel. The smugglers’ final intended destination was Indonesia, by way of Nairobi and Dubai. The Turtle Survival Alliance has been charged with the care of all of the Radiated Tortoises, while the Ploughshare Tortoises were sent to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA Malagasy Tortoise Conservation Coordinator) is currently caring for the Radiated Tortoises, most of which are very young, in the gardens of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in Antananarivo where he is based.
Many of the Radiated Tortoises are weak and in poor health after their ordeal. After they are able to fully recover, Herilala hopes to reintroduce them in the sacred forest of Ampotoka in the Androy Region, where a collaboration has already been established to release confiscated tortoises. We will keep you posted on their progress. (Photo credit: Mamy Mael)