by Heather Lowe 

Confiscated endangered Malagasy tortoises were flown from Mumbai back to Madagascar in April with the support of a network of conservation organizations led by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).

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The customs and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) at Mumbai International Airport seized 146 ploughshare (Astrochelys yniphora) and radiated (A. radiata) Tortoises on March 21. The tortoises were found wrapped in plastic bags and were being taken illegally to Nepal. The confiscated tortoises were moved to the Karnala Bird Sanctuary in Maharashtra by the Maharashtra Forest Department. The government of Madagascar approached the TSA in India for triage, medical care, and repatriation of these tortoises via the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as they are critically endangered and endemic to Madagascar.

The TSA India team immediately swung into action and sent its wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Gowri Mallapur, to help the WCCB with the triage of these animals. After the confiscation, the tortoises were treated regularly and given a special diet to reduce mortality and help them recuperate from stress. Regional NGOs such as NisargSakha and Panvel were extremely helpful in the care of the animals at Karnala and the Thane Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) provided logistic support in the repatriation process.

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While some mortality was experienced, 123 radiated tortoises and seven ploughshare tortoises were able to be returned to Madagascar under the supervision of Mr. M Maranko, Regional Director, WCCB. Air Mauritius and Allied Aviation were gracious enough to facilitate the shipping process and waived much of the cost. Turtle Limited, a leading apparel brand in India, provided support for the treatment and care of the animals while they recovered, for roughly a month.

The ploughshare tortoises will be incorporated into a captive breeding program in Madagascar, while the radiated tortoises will be released after sufficient quarantine periods and a full health assessment by the TSA team in Madagascar. According to some reports, fewer than 200 adult ploughshare tortoises remain in the wild, so these animals have the potential to greatly contribute to conservation efforts in their home country.

We here at the TSA are thrilled to see this type of collaboration between our teams in India and Madagascar and thank everyone that was involved in getting these tortoises back to their home country.