A consortium of leading conservation groups has launched a new drive to combat the illegal trade in one of the world’s most threatened and most valuable reptiles – the ploughshare tortoise.
One of the first five projects to be supported by the UK government’s International Wildlife Trade initiative, this is the first time it has been able to mobilise experts to address all aspects of the trade in ploughshare tortoises from protecting animals in the wild to monitoring markets in Southeast Asia.
Included in the long list of species victim to the burgeoning demand for illegal wildlife, the Ploughshare Tortoise is sought after as a pet amongst hobbyists and collectors – individuals that clearly are not concerned with the conservation of the Critically Endangered species. These animals are highly valuable for their rarity and beautiful golden domed shell.
Fortunately, in parallel to the increasing demand, there is now a global focus being put upon this trade, which has seen action galvanized within the US and UK governments and the launch of global initiatives to raise awareness and support political action within the countries involved.
While much of the attention is placed on well-known and charismatic species such as elephant, rhino and tiger – many other species are being heavily poached and this appalling trade is going largely unnoticed. The ploughshare tortoise is one such species.
Since the political crisis began in Madagascar in 2009, there has been a major surge in poaching of ploughshare tortoises for the illegal pet trade – no ploughshare tortoise has ever been sold legally. This has led to a 30% reduction in wild animals over the last three years alone – the species cannot sustain this level of poaching pressure. Restricted to a tiny area in Northwest Madagascar, these animals have nowhere to go and they are being picked off one by one for the illegal trade.
This new approach will provide techniques to monitor and protect animals in the wild using community guardians and National Park rangers; through market analyses it will build a picture of the entire trade chain from the wild to dealers in Southeast Asia and with the UK Border Force it will train local customs and law enforcement agents to increase seizures within Madagascar.
“Together with our partners, we have been fighting to save the ploughshare tortoise since 1986. It has been a hugely successful programme with a National Park declared, a successful breeding and release programme established and numerous community engagement projects underway. Yet this tortoise is as threatened as it ever was, due to the surge in its popularity in the black market pet trade, largely in Southeast Asia. This project represents a huge boost for efforts to combat the illegal trade and to protect the species, bringing great expertise to bear on the problem”, said Andrew Terry, Head of Field Programmes for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
“Putting an end to the trade in the Ploughshare Tortoise is an extremely high and immediate priority if we are to ensure this species does not disappear forever” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “Southeast Asia truly is the hotspot for the illicit trade in this species and the support to step up our efforts to tackle the organized crime networks profiting from the illicit wildlife trade in this region is greatly appreciated”.