CITES Meeting: Turtle Conservationists Urge Immediate Action To End Poaching Of Ploughshare Tortoise

Angonoka Working Group Calls on CITES Conference of the Parties and Government of Madagascar to Prevent Imminent Extinction of Emblematic Species

For immediate release
September 26, 2016

Unless the government of Madagascar takes swift action to enforce international anti-poaching and anti-trafficking laws, the country’s largest tortoise—the ploughshare tortoise (or angonoka tortoise)—will likely go extinct in the wild within the next two years. The dire warning comes from a coalition of international conservation organizations (Turtle Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Global Wildlife Conservation) that issued a statement to governments attending the CITES meeting of the Conference of the Parties meeting Sep. 24 – Oct. 5 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“At this point the fate of the tortoise is up to the government of Madagascar,” said Peter Paul van Dijk, Turtle Conservancy’s Field Conservation Programs Director and an Associate Conservation Scientist with GWC. “Conservationists can’t go in and be the police force or the customs official or the border inspections officer at the airport. If the responsible authorities don’t take urgent action to stop the poaching and trafficking, our world is going to feel a little emptier without these enchanting animals.”

Ploughshare tortoises live only in the Baly Bay National Park in northwestern Madagascar, a park that was established in 1997 specifically to protect the species in its natural habitat. Poachers target the animal to export to international collectors as a highly coveted pet with its striking gold and black shell. Over the last year, poaching of the species has reached its highest level, and conservationists estimate there may be less than 100 mature adults left in the reserve. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies the tortoise as critically endangered.

“CITES is the only locally and globally binding treaty for wildlife and the international trade in wildlife,” said Richard Lewis, director of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Madagascar Programme. “As the global forum for addressing issues around international illegal wildlife trade, we have the world’s attention and we can hopefully help facilitate connections between the Malagasy government and countries that are receiving the smuggled tortoises. But at the end of the day, it is up to Madagascar to seize these opportunities and take control of this trade.”

In their joint statement to the CITES Conference, the coalition of conservation organizations together urged the member governments to prioritize working with the government of Madagascar to “develop effective and long-term solutions to the current crisis.” This includes encouraging the government to pursue all observed poaching or trafficking infractions; commit resources to the adequate enforcement of Baly Bay National Park; and to build institutional and technical capacity of customs at the country’s main airport.

“The enigmatic and revered Ploughshare Tortoise is just another example of the insatiable appetite of the high end wildlife trade in the same league as rhino horn, manta ray gill rakers, totoaba swim bladder, and trophy exotic pets like critically endangered parrots,” said Eric Goode, Turtle Conservancy President. “You can draw many parallels between the international wildlife trade and drug trade, but I believe we have so much more to lose. Conservationists collectively must think outside the box and look beyond traditional conservation ideology to save this species from extinction because the status quo simply is not working.”

Since 1975, the ploughshare tortoise has been listed in CITES Appendix I, which includes the most threatened among the CITES-listed animals and plants. As the species is driven to extinction in the wild, conservationists are working to establish and protect a network of captive populations as a last resort to save the species. 

Download PDF of Statement on Ploughshare Tortoise

The International Angonoka Working Group
The word “angonoka” is the Malagasy name for the ploughshare tortoise. The IAWG is an expert panel that was established to guide conservation strategy for the ploughshare tortoise. It is made up of leading global tortoise experts from major international organisations. The IAWG has embarked on an emergency initiative to safeguard the ploughshare tortoise and support on the ground conservation efforts. Raising the profile of the tortoise within the CITES process and enabling the provision of expert guidance to local efforts have been key contributions made by the group.

Turtle Conservancy
The Turtle Conservancy is dedicated to protecting threatened turtles and tortoises and their habitats worldwide, and to promoting their appreciation by people everywhere. The TC envisions a world where all species of turtles and tortoises ultimately thrive in the wild.
Twitter: @turtletweets ∙ Facebook: turtleconservancy

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is an international charity working to save species from extinction. Headquartered in Jersey in the Channel Islands, Durrell focuses on the most threatened species in the most threatened places. Established by author and conservationist, Gerald Durrell, in 1963, Durrell is unique among conservation organisations in integrating four core areas of operation: Field Programmes which undertake conservation action where it is needed most, the Academy which builds the capacity of conservation practitioners, the Wildlife Park in Jersey as a centre of excellence in animal husbandry, research, training and education and Conservation Science which underpins all activities.

Global Wildlife Conservation
Global Wildlife Conservation protects endangered species and habitats through science-based field action. GWC envisions a world with diverse and abundant wildlife and is dedicated to ensuring that the species on the verge of extinction are not lost. The global organization brings together scientists, conservationists, policymakers and industry leaders to ensure a truly collaborative approach to species conservation. Learn more at

Wildlife Conservation Society
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.

Maximilian Maurer
Turtle Conservancy
212-353-5060 x 10

Kelly Barker
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Lindsay Renick Mayer
Global Wildlife Conservation

Chip Weiskotten
Wildlife Conservation Society
+1 518-669-3936

Max Maurer

Turtle Conservancy, 49 Bleecker Street, Suite 601, New York, NY, 10012, United States