Turtle Survival Alliance, Utah’s Hogle Zoo and other AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums Launched Rescue Mission for Nearly 10,000 Radiated Tortoises in Madagascar
On Tuesday, April 10, more than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises were discovered by police in Toliara, Madagascar, in a private residence. The floors of virtually every room in the house were covered with tortoises that had no access to food or water. Hundreds have since died from dehydration and illness.
Saving the Radiated Tortoise from extinction is one of Hogle Zoo’s most important animal programs. The Zoo has had a long-time relationship with both the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the people of Madagascar, and has jumped in to help in the emergency rescue effort. The Zoo sent a veterinary technician to administer healthcare to the rescued animals as well as offer husbandry support in the way of building more holding pens and shade structures for the overflow of tortoises. Hogle Zoo and TSA are joined by fellow AZA institutions that have also dispatched medical supplies and animal experts to help with the crisis.
“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 TSA. “We were already caring for 8,000 tortoises in Madagascar, now that number has more than doubled overnight.” Hogle Zoo and the TSA built a conservation center that cares for and rehabilitates confiscated animals in 2015.
It is not known how long the tortoises have been in the house, some arrests have been made, the local police and their partners continue their investigation. It is believed the tortoises were collected for the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia. The tortoises’ highly-domed shell features a brilliant star pattern making them highly prized. It is estimated that Radiated Tortoise populations in the wild have declined by more than 80 percent in the last 30 years, a rate that will render them extinct in the wild in less than two decades.
Utah’s Hogle Zoo has done extensive work in Madagascar since 2010, building the very triage centers that allow these critical confiscation operations to happen. “We’re so proud of the work we’re doing in Madagascar,” said Christina Castellano, Vice President, Hogle Zoo, and conservation biologist with over 20 years of experience in Madagascar. “We have built these triage centers but the number or tortoises from this confiscation is so overwhelming that we have to invest more in building new housing, hiring additional staff and security guards and getting food for these animals. We really have to ramp up what we’re doing to give them the care they need to survive.”
Castellano along with a Hogle Zoo reptile keeper will be among the next wave of support sent to the region. Reptile experts will be training Madagascan keepers in proper husbandry methods for tortoises, including how to monitor their health, food intake and growth.