The Turtle Survival Alliance and the Wildlife Conservation Society warn that this tortoise, the radiated tortoise of Madagascar, is "rapidly nearing extinction" due to the illegal pet and meat trade. The species has just 20 years left, they predicted, if interventions aren't successful. The dire conclusion comes after a field survey in Madagascar's spiny forest, which was once rife with tortoises; poachers have carted off truckloads of turtles and turtle meat, leaving an empty landscape akin to the American plains after the near-extermination of the bison.
"Areas where scores of radiated tortoises could be seen just a few years ago have been poached clean," said James Deutsch, director of the Wildlife Conservation Societys Africa Program. "Back then one could hardly fathom that this beautiful tortoise could ever become endangered, but such is the world we live in, and things can and do change rapidly."
Researchers say several factors contribute to the staggering decline of tortoise: years of extreme drought, which has sapped farm production; lack of enforcement against poachers, exacerbated by political instability; and loss of forest habitat to both farmers and invasive species.
To bring attention to the issue, The Daily Green is republishing this feature, with updated information about the plight of this beautiful tortoise.
The radiated tortoise, seen here in Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, is one of Madagascar's five critically endangered tortoises. Four other turtles and tortoises are in decline. Like much of Madagascar's wildlife, radiated tortoises live nowhere else.
Biodiversity hotspots like Madagascar are increasingly the focus of conservation, as the world tries to halt an extinction crisis that scientists believe is the first in the geologic record to be caused by one species, humans.