Saved – by a tat­too

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH -

CON­SER­VA­TION or­gan­i­sa­tions fight­ing to save one of the world’s most threat­ened tor­toises from poach­ers have re­sorted to a dras­tic mea­sure – en­grav­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion codes onto the an­i­mals’ shells to re­duce their black mar­ket value.

Al­though fully pro­tected, ploughshare tor­toises are prized for their beau­ti­ful high domed shells, but are be­ing pushed closer to the brink of ex­tinc­tion due to high de­mand as unique and ex­otic pets.

En­grav­ing a tor­toise’s shell makes it less de­sir­able to traf­fick­ers and eas­ier for en­force­ment agen­cies to trace.

Found only in north-western Mada­gas­car, the tor­toise is crit­i­cally en­dan­gered and only an es­ti­mated 400 adults re­main in the wild. Num­bers have been dev­as­tated through il­le­gal col­lec­tion and ex­port to meet the in­ter­na­tional de­mand for the pet trade, es­pe­cially in South-East Asia, where they are sold in mar­kets par­tic­u­larly in In­done­sia, Malaysia and Thai­land.

In March, two smug­glers were ar­rested with 52 ploughshare tor­toises in suit­cases while at­tempt­ing to en­ter Thai­land, where traders re­dis­tribute the an­i­mals to deal­ers lo­cally and abroad. This was the largest ever seizure of ploughshare tor­toises in South- East Asia. One of the smug­glers, a Mala­gasy woman, was jailed, while the other, a Thai man, was re­leased on bail.

This case ex­em­pli­fies the au­dac­ity of smug­glers, the ur­gency of the sit­u­a­tion and the need for en­force­ment agen­cies to take the il­le­gal trade in this species se­ri­ously.

Based on seizures re­ported in the me­dia, at least 86 ploughshare tor­toises have been seized since 2010. Over 60% of th­ese seizures oc­curred in Thai­land while re­main­ing seizures took place in Mada­gas­car and Malaysia; with at least one of the ship­ments des­tined for In­done­sia.

Four or­gan­i­sa­tions – Wildlife Re­serves Sin­ga­pore, Traf­fic, Dur­rell Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Trust and Turtle Con­ser­vancy – joined forces to hold a “Tat­too the Tor­toise” event on Dec 16 at Sin­ga­pore Zoo to raise aware­ness of the plight of the ploughshare and to build sup­port to fight traf­fick­ing in the species.

Sin­ga­pore Zoo cur­rently houses two ploughshare tor­toises which were con­fis­cated by the Agri-Food and Ve­teri­nary Au­thor­ity of Sin­ga­pore in 2009. The pair will be used to es­tab­lish an “as­sur­ance colony” in Sin­ga­pore. The top shell of each tor­toise was en­graved dur­ing this event. – Traf­fic

a ploughshare tor­toise gets en­graved with iden­ti­fi­ca­tion codes which re­duces its value amongst poach­ers.

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