Madagascar Foils Smuggling of Rarest Tortoises

Authorities in Madagascar this week arrested two men and seized close to 200 of some of the world’s rarest tortoises that they were trying to smuggle out of Antananarivo’s Ivato Airport to Jakarta, Indonesia, TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network, said today.

“Frontier Police found 26 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora), 169 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and one spider tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides) in a box and three large bags that were transported directly to the tarmac, circumventing security scanners, according to local media reports, TRAFFIC said in a news release.

“Upon scanning the bags, authorities discovered the tortoises hidden inside and proceeded to arrest two men, one of whom had already boarded the flight. The two arrested were a Malagasy and an Indian national.”

According to TRAFFIC, local media quoted Brunel Razafintsiandraofa, Chief of Border Police, as saying that the smuggler’s final destination was Indonesia, via Nairobi and Dubai. “He also told press that the principal destination of wildlife trafficked from Madagascar was to Southeast Asia.”

The shipment includes a stunning number of ploughshare tortoises, of which there are only a few hundred left in the wild, making it one of the world’s rarest tortoise species.

The shipment includes a stunning number of ploughshare tortoises, of which there are only a few hundred left in the wild, making it one of the world’s rarest tortoise species, TRAFFIC said.

“All three tortoise species seized are classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered — considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild — and fully protected by law in Madagascar. All three occur naturally only in Madagascar.

“Their international commercial trade is also banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), yet these species frequently turn up in seizures and are seen for sale in markets of Southeast Asia.”

These radiated tortoises were seized in Malaysia last year. © Chris R Shepherd/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.


This June, TRAFFIC released the results of its investigations in Thailand, which found over a hundred radiated tortoises, dozens of spider tortoises, and three ploughshare tortoises for sale in markets and online.

TRAFFIC added: “In February this year, authorities in Bangkok arrested an Indonesian national with seven Radiated and one Ploughshare Tortoise in his bags at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. In August 2010, TRAFFIC also observed these species for sale at an expo in Jakarta. Several large-scale seizures of these tortoises were also made in Malaysia and Thailand in 2010. Most were found stuffed and hidden in luggage smuggled through airports.

“A WWF survey published last year showed that ten or more zebu carts filled with around 100 tortoises each are leaving the Mahafaly Plateau in south Madagascar every week, and pointed to ongoing political instability as the driver for the large jump in illegal collection of spider tortoises and radiated tortoises.”

Responsibility does not lie with Madagascar alone, but also with importing countries.

“Those involved in apprehending these criminals in Ivato are to be congratulated,” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. “Responsibility does not lie with Madagascar alone, but also with importing countries. The authorities in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia should take firm and immediate action against those trading in these species and put an end to this illicit trade.”

The turtles were given over to the Water and Forest Services, according to reports.

This post was based on news materials and photos submitted by TRAFFIC, a joint program of WWF and IUCN.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn