Ploughshare Tortoise Trafficking Update

Last week Turtle Conservancy colleague Torsten Blanck published an alarming report on the current status of illegal Ploughshare Tortoises in China. Using a Chinese Internet search engine covering just the last 6 months, a remarkable 30 adult, 12 sub-adult, and 30 juvenile specimens were found advertised for sale in China. This is absolutely shocking in the context of this year’s population survey reporting less than 500 remaining in the wild! Turtle Conservancy is combating this unbounded illegal trade together with our global partners Durrell, TRAFFIC, and Conservation International. Turtle Conservancy biologist Andrea Currylow is deployed in Madagascar continuing the push to deface every living Ploughshare Tortoise with an indelible external identification mark to make them less beautiful and less valuable in the trade.

Illegal trade has run rampant in China for several years now. In a recent survey of Chinese zoos, noted turtle conservationist Gerald Kuchling reported 3 adults and 2 sub-adults in a concrete bunker on display to draw crowds at one major zoo. These are on loan from a private company that rents out live animals for exhibition. Under such conditions, this extremely rare and usually long-lived species perishes quickly, and dead animals are simply replaced so everyone can continue to make a profit. This illegal exploitation is fueled by economic forces very similar to the drug trade where abject poverty motivates people to do unthinkable acts just to survive; in this case it is local Malagasy poachers selling off the treasures of their national heritage followed by a string of eager smugglers and traders interested in making a fast buck, even at the cost of destroying ecosystems and stripping the world of its awe-inspiring biological diversity.

The illegal trade in Critically Endangered Ploughshare Tortoises continues to make headlines. Earlier this month, officials at Madagascar’s Ivato Airport in the capital city of Antananarivo confiscated 521 indigenous tortoises including 9 Ploughshare Tortoises, known as Angonoka in Malagasy. Turtle Conservancy wishes to thank the Turtle Survival Alliance for their assistance in holding these tortoises in the interim until they could be transferred to the new quarantine facility of our global partner, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. The Ploughshare tortoises are now receiving the expert veterinary and husbandry care they need to be rehabilitated for participation in the conservation breeding and reintroduction program that has been protecting this species from extinction for the past 28 years.