I have some exciting updates to share related to ongoing rescue efforts after the radiated tortoise crisis in Madagascar. I have recently taken on the role of Reintroduction Project Manager within the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), with the purpose of getting thousands of critically endangered tortoises back into the wild. My most recent three-week trip provided the opportunity to do some initial ground surveying of tortoise habitat, check-in on the confiscated tortoises, and get face-to-face time with the team of biologists who will be assisting with this massive scientific undertaking.
I am ecstatic to report that the tortoises from the original confiscation of over 10,000 in April are doing very well. The facility to house them has been completed and the tortoises are heavy, bright-eyed and healthy. The TSA has hired a crew of local villagers to act as zookeepers and security guards who are doing a spectacular job at the facility. The tortoises are in great hands until we can figure out how to get them back into the wild. There are three main components to finding appropriate sites of release for these tortoises:
- Local community involvement
- Habitat quality
- Existing tortoise populations
The entire project is dependent on forming long-lasting partnerships with local people and giving them the resources to protect their wildlife. It is imperative that local communities help us protect released tortoises.
The OKC Zoo is tremendously supportive of my research. Over the next two years, I will be spending a great deal of time on the ground in Madagascar in hopes of identifying appropriate sites to release tortoises. Just two days after my return from this trip, another 7,000 tortoises were confiscated in the southern region. Madagascar is under siege from both poachers and deforestation alike. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that we step up to protect these animals and empower local people to protect them before they are gone forever. I can’t wait to share my story with you all as things continue to develop and these animals are returned to the spiny forest of Madagascar.
-Josh Lucas, Lead Animal Caretaker, Herpetology