Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora)



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The beautiful Ploughshare Tortoise may be the most critically endangered tortoise in the world. Males have an elongated plough-shaped gular projection emerging from the plastron used in breeding jousts aimed at flipping over their opponents. The species is restricted to a single protected area, Baly Bay National Park, in northwestern Madagascar, created in 1998 with the tortoise as the primary conservation target. A cap- tive breeding program was established in 1985 to increase numbers of Ploughshare Tortoises for release back into the wild. The initial release target of 100 captive-bred animals back in the wild was reached in 2015. The main pressure on wild animals, poaching for the illegal pet trade, has grown to such an extent that, despite concerted protection efforts in the field, the species is now near extinction. There are likely fewer than 100 animals remaining in the wild.


This illegal trade was enabled by the political unrest in 2009, after which there was an exponential increase in poaching activities. Collaborative efforts between NGOs and government partners in Madagascar and Southeast Asia have directly addressed the illegal trade chain, by targeting smugglers, working with law enforcement and supporting greater international collaboration. These efforts are beginning to gain some traction. Current efforts to save the ploughshare tortoise have three core components: 1) secure the remaining wild animals and remove the threat from poaching, 2) ensure the continuation of a physically and genetically safe breeding program, and 3) support Madagascar to build the necessary capacity to arrest and prosecute smugglers caught illegally removing the country’s natural heritage. The hundreds of animals now held illegally need to be moved into multiple secure captive breeding programs in order to prepare for eventual repatriation to the species’ native habitat.


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