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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.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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  1. COOL dude
    November 12, 2011, 1:37 pm

    wow. they are sooo cute!

  2. Marie
    The Gambia
    October 11, 2011, 9:41 am

    I love nature and its treasures. I think we should preserve them for our children.

  3. bryan
    September 27, 2011, 11:36 pm

    are they seized from the wild or just captive breeding??

  4. Azharuddin
    September 24, 2011, 3:40 pm

    I love nature and the cretures live in it.i will say that the malysion goverment must increases the santance given to the supplyer.in this increased santance malaysion goverment put them as a nature cleaner without paying any fees .

  5. Henn Bea
    September 24, 2011, 6:08 am

    That was my question.The article didn’t make the smugglers reasons clear.Also,why is there no protection for the Tortoises?This is very sad news.
    CITES and TRAFFIC need to help more with protecting them.

  6. Li.
    September 15, 2011, 7:54 pm

    If there are only few hundreds left… Its wierd no one can protect those. If someone can collect them easily, why no one guards an area?

  7. lopez
    sept. 4 1.12P.M
    September 4, 2011, 8:24 am

    yaks. they are cute very rare where can we find those things you must be a trveler

  8. olivia
    August 28, 2011, 9:53 pm

    Nearly every enviromental problem is to do with money thats all most people care about. :C

  9. David Braun
    August 18, 2011, 8:59 am

    Reptiles like these are smuggled because they receive very high prices for both the exotic pet and the exotic meat trade. Consumers willing to pay such prices evidently don’t care that they are the economic force behind driving these animals to extinction in the wild.

  10. pitroda ashish . R
    August 16, 2011, 11:34 am

    nice and like a animals and i like a tortoise

  11. Elizabeth
    August 13, 2011, 11:24 pm

    This was not exactly made clear in the article but why are these animals being smuggled? Are they luxury pets or food?