Ten thousand radiated tortoises, an endangered species from Madagascar, were recently found in a home in Tuléar, a city in the south west of the island. The tortoises were found crammed into a small space, in the middle of their own urine and excrement.
Precisely 9,888 tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) who are in critical danger of going extinct were found stashed in a two storey house. There were tortoises everywhere: “in the bathroom, in the kitchen, all over the house…. It was so awful”, said Soary Randrianjafizanaka, the regional head of Madagascar’s environmental agency. 180 tortoises had already died at the time of the discovery, which was made due to the smell of excrement and urine emanating from the house. Three people were arrested, and two of them were caught by the police in the middle of burying dead tortoises in the garden.
It took six trucks to transfer all of the tortoises to a rescue centre. The reptiles were looked after, but a week later, 574 of them had died from dehydration. The surviving tortoises are still being held in captivity, to protect them from poachers.
Radiated tortoises are still nowadays precious targets for poachers and smugglers, who collect them to sell as pets and for their livers, which are used in Chinese medicine. Deforestation also has had an impact on this vulnerable population. In 2013, it was estimated that there were six million of these tortoises still on Earth, which was only half as many as in the 1990s. Nowadays, the population is probably closer to 3 million.
The political system in Madagascar and recent economic difficulties have also unfortunately pushed efforts to protect the environment to the bottom of the pile in terms of priorities, which doesn’t help matters. In the past few years, seizures of radiated tortoises – as well as the even rarer Angonoka (or ‘ploughshare’) tortoise that comes from Madagascar -have become common practice.