Earlier this month, a Nigerian man was arrested with 300 tortoises and another 20 have been returned to their habitat after being seized on a neighbouring island.
Eight of the tortoises saved were of the rarest species in the world: the ploughshare tortoise. Found in a small area of north-western Madagascar, conservationists believe only about 1,000 of these ploughshare tortoises remain and the loss of even a small number would be devastating. According to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the ploughshare will be extinct within 10 years if they continue to disappear at the same rate.
It is a global trade. The Nigerian man, who faces up to 10 years if he is convicted, was found with three passports with three different names from three different countries. The reptiles could have been bound for rare animal markets in Bangkok, Thailand.
Although tortoises are protected in Madagascar, some species are still eaten in parts of the country. However, to buy a tortoise to eat might cost $10 (£5), but to buy one as a pet might cost you $10,000 (£5,000), so the real risk lies from international collectors.
Felicitee Rejo Fienena, who works for the government in southern Madagascar, wants more to be done to protect wildlife. “If buyers continue to exist on the international market, then collectors will continue to exist in Madagascar,” she says. People trying to protect the tortoises here are wary of advertising the sheer value of the trade for fear of attracting even more fortune-hunters to the island. On the other hand, if they do not draw attention to the threat the trade causes, for certain species their desirability may lead to their extinction.
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