Click to read: Durrell sends a crack tortoise team on a rescue mission to Thailand

Durrell sends a crack tortoise team on a rescue mission to Thailand

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s local Madagascan vet Tsanta Fiderana boarded a plane to Bangkok, Thailand this week. Her mission was to provide care and the best chance of survival to members of one of the world’s most threatened species - namely the angonoka, or ‘ploughshare tortoise’.

In the wild, these critically endangered reptiles are only found in Tsanta’s native Madagascar. In captivity, they are only legally held by a select list of conservation organisations - of which Durrell is proud to be included. However, the tortoises are highly prized as pets, especially in South East Asia, where a lucrative illegal pet-trade has arisen, which led to Tsanta’s recent rescue mission to Bangkok.

Thai police found Fifty-three juvenile ploughshare tortoises and one sub-adult

... along with twenty-one radiated tortoises in the luggage of a Malagasy woman, which was then suspiciously collected by a Thai man at Bangkok International Airport on the 15th of March this year. This is the largest ever confiscation of the species, and led to the pair being handcuffed and held captive themselves.

The unfortunate tortoises, although transferred to a rescue centre at the airport, aren’t easily cared for in captivity - it’s literally a job for the experts. A number of them died upon transfer, and the remainder are said to be in poor health. Luckily, Tsanta is hugely experienced in caring for sick ploughshare tortoises, being the leading veterinarian on the captive breeding and reintroduction programme that Durrell runs for the Malagasy government. She was also present and involved when some of the first ever legally imported ploughshare tortoises arrived at Durrell HQ, Jersey, after being seized from smugglers at Hong Kong International Airport. 

Tsanta is joined on her mercy mission by experts Dr. Paul Gibbons and Maurice Rodrigues of the organisation Turtle Conservancy. The trio will not only tend to the health and wellbeing of the remaining tortoises, but at the same time create new enclosures that can be used for future seizures of turtles and tortoises at the airport.

After smuggling attempts the tortoises are often very sick and in a state of shock, so they need special care

"We don’t know what sort of conditions and treatment they experienced during their journeys, and they may have been exposed to diseases and parasites. My first priority when I get to Thailand is to work with the Thai veterinary team and our partners the Turtle Conservancy to evaluate the health of the tortoises through a thorough examination, and then to give them the care they need to re-establish their health.”​ Tsanta Fiderana explained.

Richard Lewis, Programme director for Durrell in Madagascar said:

the ploughshare tortoise is perilously close to extinction. We think there are fewer than 400 adults left in their natural habitat. Even though the seized animals were mainly babies, losing 54 individuals from the wild represents a huge blow to the population, which is why we are doing everything we can to ensure their health and bring them back to Madagascar.

The 25 year-long Durrell effort to save the ploughshare tortoise now covers not only captive breeding, husbandry, research and release, but also community work with the people who share the tortoises natural habitat.

Want to play a part?

£5 buys wellington boots for staff to maintain strict health conditions - Donate
£10 feeds and cares for a ploughshare for two months - Donate
£50 pays for a guard to patrol the wild population for 1 month - Donate
£200 buys a radio transmitter to track one of our released animals for 3 years - Donate
£500 pays for the transfer of 20 tortoises from the breeding facility to the wild - Donate

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Posted 29 May 2013

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