Madagascar agents foil smuggling of over 700 turtles

Martin Vogl
Associated Press

Antananarivo, Madagascar — The discovery by Madagascar’s customs officials of more than 700 rare tortoises about to be smuggled out of the country is the largest ever case of its kind, an organization devoted to protecting the animals said Wednesday.

“There’s lots of smuggling going on, and 550 was the previous record, so this is the biggest case we’ve ever seen,” said Herilala Randriamahazo of the Turtle Survival Alliance, which is now looking after the tortoises.

The 771 critically endangered tortoises were found on Monday in unaccompanied freight due to be flown to Malaysia, he said. The land tortoises were hidden in socks and baby diapers and then covered with clothing, he said.

Most of the tortoises were small — about the size of a tennis ball — and most were just a few years old, said Randriamahazo.

Almost all the tortoises were Radiated Tortoises which are known for their beautiful carapaces in which each section of the shell has a pattern of yellow lines radiating from the center. There were also a few Ploughshare Tortoises which are even more rare, he said.

Both species are critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The smuggling of tortoises out of Madagascar is growing, according to the Turtle Survival Alliance. Randriamahazo said that the animals found Monday were likely to be smuggled to become either pets or raised to be eaten.