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AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums Assist with Radiated Tortoise Rescue in Madagascar

Turtle Survival Alliance Launches Rescue Mission to Nearly 11,000 Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoises Discovered in Massive Poaching Bust

Animal Experts from AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums Dispatched to Madagascar to Conduct the Rescue

On Tuesday, April 10, more than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) were discovered by local police in a non-descript private residence in Toliara, Madagascar. The floors of virtually every room in the house were covered with tortoises that had no access to food or water. As of Friday, April 13, hundreds had died from dehydration and illness. Experts from several zoos and aquariums have been dispatched with medical supplies, and will administer medical care for the sick or injured tortoises and general animal care.

It is not known how long the tortoises have been in the home and some arrests have been made. The local police in partnership with Directeur Regional de l’Environment, de ‘Ecologie et des Forets (DREEF), the conservation law enforcement authorities in Madagascar, continue their investigation. It is believed that the tortoises were collected for the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia, where the tortoises’ highly-domed shell featuring a brilliant star pattern makes them highly prized.  It is estimated that radiated tortoise populations in the wild have declined more than 80 percent in the last 30 years. At this rate of decline, it is estimated that the radiated tortoise could be functionally extinct in the wild in less than two decades.   

Currently, triage efforts are being led by a five-member team from the Turtle Survival Alliance’s (TSA) Madagascar staff, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Villages des Tortues, who have been working non-stop to relocate the surviving tortoises 18 miles north at SOPTOM-Villages des Tortues, a 17-acre private wildlife facility in Ifaty.  While there, each tortoise will receive initial in-processing, health evaluations, hydration and triage.  

“I don’t think the word overwhelming comes close to describing what the Turtle Survival Alliance is dealing with here,” said Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance. “We were already caring for 8,000 tortoises in Madagascar, now that number has more than doubled overnight.”

Participating organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) include Abilene Zoo, Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Dallas Zoo, Dickerson Park Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, Fort Worth Zoo, New England Aquarium,  Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, San Diego Zoo Global, Shedd Aquarium,  Tennessee Aquarium, Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, Tulsa Zoo, Utah's Hogle Zoo,  Zoo Knoxville, and Zoo Atlanta.  In addition to these AZA organizations, the TSA’s efforts are being supported by global conservation partners  Aktionsgemeinschaft Artenschutz (AGA) e. V., Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust,  ProWildlife v. E., SOPTOM-Village Des Tortues, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, and the Turtle & Tortoise Preservation Group  and the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand plus a growing number of private donors.

“We are in ‘an all-hands-on-deck’ mentality right now.” said Hudson. “Fortunately, due to our strong relationship with the zoo community the TSA is well positioned to respond to crises such as this.”

“The immediate response of more than 20 AZA-accredited facilities, offering their expertise and assistance to care for thousands of tortoises in Madagascar, is proof we will take whatever action is necessary to address illegal wildlife trade and other threats that put the world’s most vulnerable species at risk of extinction.” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. “Through programs like SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, AZA and its members are engaging in critical, coordinated, and needed conservation work.”

Given the scale of the rescue efforts, TSA expects to send additional teams of veterinary experts from the United States to Madagascar over the coming weeks and months.    

“The support we continue to receive from the global conservation community has been incredible, and we are extremely thankful for the multitude of individuals and organizations that have come forward with donations and supplies.” said Hudson.  “Yet, the long-term financial impacts to our Madagascar program is potentially crippling.”

Currently, the best way for the public to assist the TSA in their rescue efforts is to make a tax-deductible donation to the Turtle Survival Alliance Foundation, which can be made online at www.turtlesurvival.org/donate. Additionally, any zoological institution, private veterinary practice, husbandry technicians, or additional support personnel interested in assisting can contact Andrew Walde, Chief Operations Officer, directly at awalde@turtlesurvival.org.

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.

About the Turtle Survival Alliance

The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) is an internationally recognized action-oriented global partnership, focusing on species that are at high risk of extinction, and working in turtle diversity hotspots around the world.   The group was originally organized in 2001 in response to the rampant and unsustainable harvest of Asian turtle populations to supply Chinese markets, referred to as the Asian Turtle Crisis.  Since then, TSA has evolved to respond to other endangered turtle species around the world with current projects or programs in Belize, Colombia, Europe, Madagascar, and throughout Asia. Today the TSA supports projects or programs – both wild and captive - that benefit 21 of the World’s 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. For more details on TSA’s programs, visit www.turtlesurvival.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @TurtleSurvival.

Posted by Ashley Jones at 2:00 PM

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