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The TSA is pleased to announce the hiring of Gregory Duplant as Project Coordinator for TSA Madagascar's southern tortoise program. Gregory comes to us from WCS Cambodia and brings a wealth of experience in working with indigenous people and promoting grassroots conservation.
Gregory will be responsible for mobilizing TSA's Confiscation to Reintroduction strategy for Radiated Tortoises, and is currently overseeing the construction of the third of four tortoise rescue centers in major trafficking centers in the south, where confiscations are most likely to occur. He will also assist in the development and testing of our tortoise release program, while building relationships with local communities to restore and protect tortoise populations.
His energy and adaptability allow him to get things done under trying conditions, and he has a talent from moving from concept to reality in a short time. He has become a valuable asset to the TSA Madagascar team.
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The TSA Madagascar Program is pleased to announce that the first of four planned tortoise rescue centers in the south has been built at Ambovombe, the administrative capital of the Androy Region. The native people - known as Tandroy - have traditionally held the strongest taboos (known as fady) against harming tortoises amongst the eighteen tribes in the country. Despite the importance of the taboo, Ambovombe is also well-known for tortoise consumption and corruption related to transportation of tortoises. Establishing the first Rescue Center here will set an example from the top, and will remind the people about the cultural value of the taboo and tortoise conservation. The Center will also serve as a place that will hopefully change behavior for other regional authorities and influence school kids through organized tours.
These Centers are part of the TSA’s comprehensive Confiscation to Reintroduction strategy designed as part of an ongoing process to transition tortoises seized from poachers back into protected areas. TSA staff have been overwhelmed during most of 2013 as they are called on to handle an increasing number of confiscated tortoises, both from the airport in the captital city of Antananarivo as well as various points in the south. This massive increase is likely due to increased awareness among airport authorities, with accompanying international pressure to deal with the rampant illegal export of tortoises to Asia. This trade that has become increasingly visible to those monitoring international traffic in endangered species and smugglers are now being monitored more closely. In the south the uptick in tortoise seizures can be attributed to the application of a regional DINA, a self-enforcing pact that commits local communities to help safeguard tortoise populations and not tolerate poaching from outsiders. DINAs are important forms of law for local villages, are often transcend national laws that are largely unknown to rural people. The TSA is helping with the implementation of the DINA by providing transportation funds to gendarmes, to reach the site of the violation to make arrests.
Construction on the next Center - located in Ampanihy - will get underway soon, to be followed by facilities in Betioky then Tsiombe, a major tortoise trafficking hub. TSA’s southern Madagascar headquarters will soon be moving to Beloha in an attempt to have greater impact in this well-known tortoise poaching center and we will be introducing a new staff member for this important region in the near future.
In addition to building greater capacity to handle confiscated tortoises in the south, we will be conducting research to determine the best strategies for returning them to the wild. The new Centers will provide time to better plan releases, thereby improving their chances for survival, and will allow us to follow established international guidelines designed to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
This program was generously funded by grants from the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund, Columbus Zoo, Toronto Zoo, and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. In particular we want to thank Ed Louis and the Henry Doorly Zoo’s Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership for hosting the TSA Madagascar Tortoise Program and for helping to care for the hundreds of confiscated tortoises that have been trusted to our care.
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The TSA is thrilled to announce that a verdict has been reached in a tortoise smuggling case in Madagascar from July 2011 (click here for the story). One of the smugglers arrested, along with three accomplices, were sentenced this week to two years in prison and a fine equivalent to $574,000 USD.
This is the highest fine ever levied for tortoise smuggling in Madagascar and gives us hope that the tide is turning!
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The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Utah's Hogle Zoo (HZ) conducted their latest field expedition in March 2013 as part of the Madagascar Tortoise Conservation Project. The goals of the expedition were to:
• Conduct an assessment of last year's public awareness campaign using survey questionnaires and focus groups;
• Distribute new campaign materials and education workbooks;
• Identify tortoise release sites to be incorporated into the reintroduction program;
• Develop a research methodology to evaluate release strategies;
• Discuss the creation of temporary holding pens to facilitate confiscations with community leaders;
• Conduct follow-up meetings with the World Bank (WB) and Madagascar National Parks (MNP) to determine status of WB funding of project; and
• Develop an eco-tour to bring social and economic benefits to the communities associated with the reintroduction program.
This year our field crew included me (Christina Castellano, HZ), Riana Rakotondrainy (HZ), Saaya Tema (RAW Africa), Ryan Walker (TSA), Andrea Currylow (Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP)), Sylvain Mahazotahy (TSA), and Soary Randrianjafizanaka (TSA). Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA) was unable to join us in the field, but organized meetings and continued to facilitate the program from Antananarivo (Tana).
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2012 was the busiest and best in the history of the Turtle Survival Alliance. Here are just a few of the accomplishments that we're so grateful for as the year draws to a close:
- In Madagascar, the TSA’s grassroots campaign to expose the Radiated Tortoise poaching crisis is beginning to yield positive results throughout the country. Community agreements to strengthen protection for this iconic species have resulted in a dramatic increase in confiscations and arrests in 2012, a sign that the tide may finally be turning. In 2013, the TSA will embark on an ambitious program to build a series of rescue centers throughout the south for rehabilitation and treatment until the tortoises are prepared to return to the wild.
- In December, the TSA will dedicate Burma’s first Turtle Rescue Center. Years of planning and fund-raising have culminated in this facility that promises to save countless turtles and tortoises rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. New assurance colony facilities were also built this year for Burmese Mountain Tortoises and Arakan Forest Turtles.
- The June hatching of 50 Northern River Terrapins in captive facilities in both Bangladesh and India was a stunning achievement, and made global news. This gives new hope for the survival of this critically endangered turtle that is believed to be very near extinction in the wild.
- A recent Save Our Species grant will breathe new life into recovery programs for Asian river terrapins (Genus Batagur) in India, Myanmar, Cambodia and Bangladesh. Captive management is essential to safeguarding these species until efforts to protect and restore nesting habitat are successful, and we are actively building a multi-national model that integrates these strategies.
- The TSA produced two films this year to increase awareness of the extensive poaching problems that threaten chelonians in both Madagascar and Bangladesh, and the brutal slaughter that accompanies the illegal wildlife trade.
- The TSA launched a program in Colombia this year – our first in South America – that will focus on endemic species, most notably the critically endangered Magdalena River Turtle. By expanding a successful community-based program of nest protection, hatching, headstarting and release, these grassroots efforts will have a greater impact on the species’ recovery in the wild.
- In India, the TSA is poised to assume management of the Kukrail Gharial Conservation Center in Lucknow where we will build assurance colonies of most of northern India’s threatened chelonians. The Center will become the home base of operations for TSA India, and provide a facility where the increasing number of confiscated turtles can be rehabilitated.
- Launching the Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina in 2013 is guaranteed to prove transformational for the TSA and will propel us into a new era. Building assurance colonies for some of the world’s rarest species – many of which will depend on captive management for their survival – will ensure that we maintain our commitment to zero turtle extinctions.
Membership revenue and online sales account for just roughly 8% of our total revenue. The remainder of our income is provided primarily through grants and donations. For that reason, we are reaching out to those of you who support the TSA to ask for your consideration of a year-end gift to help propel us into an even bigger and better 2013.
This gift does not have the benefits associated with membership and is completely tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. It is a gift that comes from the heart by those who understand the needs of chelonians worldwide and appreciate the work being done year-round by the TSA globally. Click here to donate today.
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The group of radiated tortoises that was confiscated at the Ivato Airport (Madagascar) on October 10 is still being cared for by the staff at the office that the TSA shares with the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in Antaranarivo. The tortoises (569 total) had been packed into just four suitcases when they were found and many have suffered health consequences as a result. In total, 50 have been lost thus far, primarily due to stress, dehydration and immune issues.
However, the good news is that mortality seems to be subsiding at this point as no additional tortoises have been lost in the past week. A local veterinarian, Tsanta Rakotonanahary, has been working closely with Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA Malagasy Tortoise Conservation Coordinator) to treat the group and keep mortality to a minimum. Tsanta has a history with the TSA, as she received special training from the TSA in 2010 (pictured at left). She is actively consulting with Dr. Bonnie Raphael (WCS) and Paul Gibbons (Turtle Conservancy) to take advantage of their expertise in treating tortoises. We appreciate everyone that is contributing their services to this effort.
The tortoises will be under the care of the TSA until they are healthy and are given the green light from the Malagasy Forest Authority for reintroduction. If you would like to contribute to help offset the cost of their care and medical treatment, please visit the TSA donation page.
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The TSA team in Madagascar is still waiting on word from the Malagasy Forestry Authority on the legal proceedings surrounding the recent Radiated Tortoise confiscation. In the meantime, they are stretched to the limit in terms of time and resources, caring for the nearly 600 tortoises at the TSA/Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP) offices, until they are given approval to reintroduce these animals to the wild. Despite that, Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA Malagasy Tortoise Conservation Coordinator) and his team still found time recently to stage a massive outreach event, using the confiscation (and some of the tortoises!) as a tool to educate the people of Antananarivo on the conservation issues facing the critically endangered Radiated Tortoise.
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On October 10, two Asian passengers on an Air Madagascar flight to Bangkok, Thailand and Guangzhou, China were arrested at Ivato International Airport after attempting to smuggle four suitcases full of 569 Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) through customs. This is a record number seizure for this airport in the capital city of Antananarivo. After the confiscation, the Malagasy Forestry Authority mandated the Turtle Survival Alliance to look after the baby tortoises. Of the group, three were already dead and ten are currently in very poor condition.
This is the second major tortoise confiscation in the past two weeks and is already overwhelming our resources to care for them properly. This underscores the critical need for another regional rescue center in the south where tortoises can be moved immediately following seizure for quarantine, treatment and long-term care prior to their release back into protected areas.
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The head of Androy Region in southern Madagascar has given the order to return 272 juvenile Radiated Tortoises to the town of Tsihombe, a well-known hub of tortoise poaching and consumption in the south. On the night of September 22, two dealers left Tsihombe by taxi-brousse and were later arrested by the Gendarmes in Ampanihy and placed in prison. An additional 38 juvenile tortoises were later released on the road by an unknown dealer in Tsihombe in response to the arrest in Ampanihy; all are being cared by under the supervision of Sylvain Mahazotahy, TSA's "man in the south" in charge of community relations.
As part of the application of the famous Dina "Lilintane I Androy" (Note: a Dina is a contract among communities in the region that is built on a commitment to protect tortoises and generally transcends national law) a serious awareness campaign took place on Thursday September 27, led by the head of the District, who is based in Tsihombe, and the town's Mayor. In front of the public, obviously moved by the arrest of tortoise poachers, they gave for the first time ever a speech to inform people about the Dina and its strict application as well as the incarceration of six poachers involved in the tortoise trafficking. They also vowed to challenge any attempt to alter the justice procedure of this case.
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The TSA, in collaboration with The Orianne Society (TOS), hired noted South Africa-based wildlife film makers Moz Images to cover the rapidly worsening crisis with Madagascar’s Radiated Tortoise. The film crew of Chris Scarfe and Aaron Gekoski accompanied Rick Hudson and Christina Castellano to Madagascar in September 2011 and the resulting short film - Tortoises in Trouble - is being released this week to multiple outlets and can be seen below. The film tracks a group of 140 confiscated Radiated Tortoises from the capital city of Antananarivo to their homeland in the south where they are repatriated to a sacred protected forest near the village of Ampotoka. Along the way, the film exposes ample evidence of massive tortoise consumption, and explores the root causes through interviews with poachers, gendarmes and local judiciary. The film clip is short – only nine minutes – and is meant to draw attention to the crisis internationally and to increase the pressure on the government to respond with stricter penalties and enforcement. However we captured sufficient footage to compile a full length documentary on this story if funding can be identified.