|Michelle Uhlig, Dr. Ari Fustukjian and Alex De Mola holding a radiated tortoise from The Florida Aquarium with a box of medical supplies that is on its way to Madagascar to help treat the confiscated tortoises.Credit: The Florida Aquarium.
Today, critical medical supplies from The Florida Aquarium are on their way to Madagascar to treat thousands of tortoises that were confiscated from a single residence in the city of Toliara in Madagascar.
On April 10, the Turtle Survival Alliance, a global partnership of individuals, zoos, aquariums, biologists and researchers who have joined together to help conserve threatened and endangered tortoise and turtle species, confiscated 10,976 critically endangered radiated tortoises from a personal residence.
The tortoises have been temporarily transferred to Villages de Tortues, a secure facility in Madagascar where the animals are receiving initial health evaluations, hydration and triage, but even within the first few days, hundreds of tortoises died from dehydration, malnutrition and illness. As of April 12, 9,760 tortoises are alive, but need immediate help.
More than 20 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are sending medical supplies, team members or funds to care for the sick or injured tortoises. The first wave of responders arrived in Madagascar April 23. Many of the animals are in relatively good health and are only in need of water and food. However, responders are currently treating more than 1,000 animals for various conditions from severe to mild and they are still working through the initial assessments to determine if more tortoises have similar conditions. Numerous deceased animals have been sent to onsite veterinarians for necropsy (animal autopsy).
“Illegal wildlife trade is a major problem and can have devastating impacts on sensitive animals like these that are already suffering from other major problems, like habitat loss. This case hits particularly close to home since Day, Night, and Dusk, our three radiated tortoises in the Journey to Madagascar gallery, are here to help educate the public about these very threats,” said Dr. Ari Fustukjian, Associate Veterinarian at The Florida Aquarium. “We are always saddened to hear about cases of illegal animal trafficking, but to see something of this magnitude is truly disheartening. What’s encouraging is to see how people and organizations like ours can pull together to help provide relief.”
Madagascar’s radiated tortoise population is threatened with extinction due to rampant hunting for its meat and the illegal pet trade. Radiated tortoises have a unique high dome-shaped shell, covered with a beautiful star-like pattern, which is why they are often collected illegally from the wild in southern Madagascar and shipped to other countries to be sold as pets. The species has been protected by international law since 1975, and was upgraded to “Critically Endangered” in 2008, meaning that they are at risk of extinction.
According to the Turtle Survival Alliance, this is the largest confiscation of tortoises or freshwater turtles in the history of the organization, and president and CEO Rick Hudson, believes these animals were destined to be part of the illegal pet trade.
Want to help? You can visit the Turtle Survival Alliance here.