Urgent action needed to halt increased trafficking of critically endangered tortoises



Posted on 18 April 2013  | 
Antananarivo, Madagascar - Over a thousand critically endangered Madagascar tortoises have been seized during trafficking attempts in the first three months of 2013, prompting a coalition of NGOs to call for urgent action from Malagasy authorities.

In one of the most recent cases, 54 ploughshare tortoises, the rarest and most threatened tortoise species in the world made it as far as Thailand before being seized.

The seizure came just a day after the close of a global wildlife trade conference in Thailand last month, Thai Customs officers and their counterparts in the CITES management authority also seized 21 radiated tortoises in the same operation.

At the beginning of April authorities made a seizure of 463 baby radiated tortoises in Adroka, southern Madgascar with a number of arrests made.

WWF along with six other NGOs published an open letter calling on the Malagasy authorities to “act as a matter of urgency”.

The letter states, “As flagship species for unique ecosystems, these tortoises are an integral part of Madagascar’s world-renowned biodiversity and natural heritage.”

“Losing these fascinating creatures, who have survived for millions of years, just for the profits of a handful of traders would be an irremediable disaster for conservation in Madagascar and embarrassing, even shameful for the Malagasy people as a whole, starting with its leaders.”

“Before the current political crisis, the total number of individuals intercepted in one year included at most a few hundred individuals. Now this figure is ten times that, counting only the recorded cases,” the letter continued.

Madagascar has a transitional government in power since 2009 and with the economy in a downward spiral, the trafficking of natural resources has been increasing.

The radiated tortoise of Madagascar was the most common species on the Asian black market in 2010, being sold in exotic pet markets, even though commercial trade in the species is prohibited, while in Madagascar they are considered a culinary delicacy.

It is estimated there only 400 adult Ploughshare tortoise left in the wild and while there might still be as many as 6.3 million radiated tortoises, the population is declining rapidly, representing a 47 per cent decrease in population size from the 12 million estimated only 11 years earlier. Both species are classified as critically endangered, according to the IUCN Red list and are among the 40 most threatened species in the world.

At the recently concluded meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), delegates from Thailand and Madagascar discussed plans to share intelligence and co-operate in other ways to curb the smuggling of wildlife from Madagascar to Thailand.

The letter was co-signed by WWF, Alliance Voahary Gasy, Conservation International, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, Turtle Survival Alliance and The Wildlife Conservation Society and can be viewed in full here.
The Malagasy Ploughshare tortoises seized in Bangkok in March 2013.
© Traffic/P.Tansom Enlarge
A radiated tortoise in its natural habitat.
© WWF-Madagascar Enlarge
A seizure of radiated tortoises
© WWF-Madagascar / Sylvain Laha Enlarge

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