A burgeoning illicit trade in Madagascar’s radiated and spider tortoises is threatening the tortoises’ survival.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that one thousand illegally captured tortoises are taken from Mahafaly Plateau in south Madagascar on a weekly basis and transported to meat markets in the nearby towns of Toliara and Fort Dauphin.
The animals are also smuggled beyond Madagascar’s borders and sold at lucrative Asian markets. TRAFFIC, an organization monitoring the global wildlife trade, reported finding radiated tortoises and other threatened Madagascan species in pet markets in Thailand and Indonesia.
“The population decline of these flagship species is alarming,” said Tiana Ramahaleo, WWF’s Conservation Planning and Species Program Coordinator in Madagascar. “If we don’t manage to halt tortoise poaching and habitat destruction in the South, we might lose both tortoises in the wild in less than fifty years.”
The reptiles, which make up half the island nation’s land-based tortoise species, dwell only in the spiny forests of the South. They are essentially facing a double threat, since deforestation, fueled by slash and burn farming and the production of charcoal for neighboring towns, is reducing their available habitat.