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Turtle Survival Alliance Launches Rescue Mission to Save 11,000 Critical Endangered Tortoises

On Tuesday, April 10, more than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) were discovered by local police in a non-descript private residence in Toliara, Madagascar. The floors of virtually every room in the house were covered with tortoises that had no access to food or water. As of Friday, April 13, hundreds had died from dehydration and illness. Experts from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and several zoos and aquariums have been dispatched with medical supplies, and will administer medical care for the sick or injured tortoises and general animal care.

It is not known how long the tortoises have been in the home, some arrests have been made, the local police in partnership with Directeur Regional de l’Environment, de ‘Ecologie et des Forets (DREEF), the conservation law enforcement authorities in Madagascar, continue their investigation.  It is believed that the tortoises were collected for the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia where the tortoises’ highly-domed shell featuring a brilliant star pattern makes them highly prized.  It is estimated that Radiated Tortoise populations in the wild have declined more than 80 percent in the last 30 years. At this rate of decline, it is estimated that the Radiated Tortoise could be functionally extinct in the wild in less than two decades.   

Currently, triage efforts are being led by a five-member team from the Turtle Survival Alliance’s (TSA) Madagascar staff, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Villages des Tortues, who have been working non-stop after relocating the surviving tortoises 18 miles north at SOPTOM-Villages des Tortues, a 17-acre private wildlife facility in Ifaty.  While there, each tortoise will receive initial in-processing, health evaluations, hydration and triage.  

“I don’t think the word overwhelming comes close to describing what the Turtle Survival Alliance is dealing with here,” said Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance. “We were already caring for 8,000 tortoises in Madagascar, now that number has more than doubled overnight.”

Participating organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) include Abilene Zoo, Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Dallas Zoo, Dickerson Park Zoo, Georgia AquariumFort Worth Zoo, New England Aquarium, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, San Diego Zoo Global, Shedd Aquarium,  Tennessee Aquarium, Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, Tulsa Zoo, Utah's Hogle ZooZoo KnoxvilleZoo Atlanta.  In addition to these AZA organizations, the TSA’s efforts are being supported by global conservation partners  Aktionsgemeinschaft Artenschutz (AGA) e. V., Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, ProWildlife v. E., SOPTOM-Village Des Tortues, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, and the Turtle & Tortoise Preservation Group  and the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand plus a growing number of private donors.

“We are in ‘an all hands on deck’ mentality right now.” said Hudson. “Fortunately, due to our strong relationship with the zoo community the TSA is well positioned to respond to crises such as this.”

Joining the rescue effort from the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is Josh Lucas, senior herpetologist. “Caring for dozens of critically endangered turtles, tortoises on a daily basis here at the OKC Zoo can sometimes be challenging, so the idea of providing treatment for almost ten thousand in urgent need is mindboggling.” said Lucas. Like everyone else who has heard about this story, I jumped at the chance to help.”

Given the scale of the rescue efforts, TSA expects to send additional teams of veterinary experts from the United States to Madagascar over the coming weeks and months.    

“The support we continue to receive from the global conservation community has been incredible, and we are extremely thankful for the multitude of individuals and organizations that have come forward with donations and supplies.” said Hudson.  “Yet, the long-term financial impacts to our Madagascar program is potentially crippling.”

Currently, the best way for the public to assist the TSA in their rescue efforts is to  make a tax-deductible donation to the Turtle Survival Alliance Foundation, which can be made online at www.turtlesurvival.org/donate. Additionally, any zoological institution, private veterinary practice, husbandry technicians, or additional support personnel interested in assisting can contact Andrew Walde, Chief Operations Officer, directly at awalde@turtlesurvival.org.

About the Turtle Survival Alliance

MISSION: The Turtle Survival Alliance is transforming passion for turtles into effective conservation action through a global network of living collections and recovery programs. VISION: Zero turtle extinctions. To achieve our mission and vision, the Turtle Survival Alliance manages collaborative turtle conservation programs in 15 countries—critical to maintaining and restoring wild populations and preserving species through assurance colonies. Today, the TSA’s programs positively impact the survival of 20 of the World’s Top 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Visit: www.turtlesurvival.org; http://www.facebook.com/TurtleSurvival; www.instagram.com/turtlesurvival. Follow: @turtlesurvival on Twitter.

About the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.

About the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is a nationally ranked zoo and Oklahoma’s premier cultural destination connecting people and our world's vanishing wildlife and wild places. Its home to 1,400 of the world's most exotic animals including several endangered or threatened species; and more than 20 designated horticultural displays and collections including over 100 species native to Oklahoma. The Zoo is a fully accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 1982 and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums as both a living museum and botanical garden. Stay connected with the OKC Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and by visiting Our Stories. For more information about the Zoo, call (405) 424-3344 or visit okczoo.org.

-TurtleSurvival.org-

For images and video associated with this release, click here.

Additional images:

https://sandiegozoo.box.com/s/qtr1mc9kd5ynfrho7txi42zui3h2t17a

or

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/59kntx9mao30cq4/AAAgXcVM2H4nx1lEA7-vi07ga?dl=0
Credit photos as “Photo courtesy Turtle Survival Alliance”

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