411 Critically Endangered Tortoises Saved from Illegal Wildlife Trade

Friday, October 22, 2010
Reims, France
After several months of waiting, 411 critically endangered tortoises will return to their home country of Madagascar. The radiated (Astrochelys radiata), spider (Pyxis arachnoides) and angulated (Astrochelys yniphora) tortoises were illegally removed from their natural habitat and were en route for sale in public markets in China when they were intercepted by customs officials at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia in July. These rare tortoises sell for thousands of dollars each as exotic pets.

After several months of waiting, 411 critically endangered tortoises will return to their home country of Madagascar. The radiated (Astrochelys radiata), spider (Pyxis arachnoides) and angulated (Astrochelys yniphora) tortoises were illegally removed from their natural habitat and were en route for sale in public markets in China when they were intercepted by customs officials at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia in July. These rare tortoises sell for thousands of dollars each as exotic pets.

The tortoises will be transported to the Madagascan capital of Antananarivo by Air Mauritius in cases built by the Malaysian National Parks, where they will be welcomed by local authorities including the Minister of the Environment, Water, Forests and Tourism, Mr. Harrison Randriarimanana. They will then be returned to the Ifaty Turtle Village where they receive complete health checks before being placed in quarantine with close monitoring for 12 months. The goal is to release them into a National Park with other tortoises within the next few years.

SOPTOM, which manages the Ifaty Turtle Village in Southern Madagascar, worked with the Madagascan and Malay authorities to repatriate the tortoises. "Madagascar's natural resources are being plundered a little more each day in order to supply large-scale trafficking. It is therefore crucial to encourage the repatriation of endemic species, such as these tortoises. Madagascan fauna must remain in its natural environment and must not be traded in any way," said Bernard Devaux, Secretary General of SOPTOM.

"The cooperation between the Malaysian and Madagascan authorities in favor of this repatriation has been exemplary. However, it must not stop here. Only closer cooperation and better coordination between the two countries will fight wildlife trafficking effectively," said Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Head of IFAW France.

These tortoise species are three of the most trafficked, threatened and rare species. They are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and international trade is strictly banned by their placement on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix 1 - reserved for only the most endangered species threatened with extinction.

The rescue operation is jointly funded by SOPTOM and IFAW and is also supported by Turtle Survival Alliance and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

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