Tortoise and turtle conservation is crucial for the South
Even as WWF Toliara was holding this conference, participants received the breaking news: tortoise poachers had been arrested outside Toliara and 1475 living tortoises as well as dry tortoise meat confiscated.
Fortunately, almost all of them were still alive.
Among the most endangered kinds of tortoises is the radiated tortoise, a species endemic to the Big Island’s South. This terrestrial tortoise is facing three main threats:
• It is much sought-after for exotic pet markets.
• Certain people in the area also eat it.
• Habitat destruction is making it difficult for the “Sokake” (Malagasy for radiated tortoise) to roam freely.
Local conservation experts attending the WWF Toliara conference raised serious concerns about the menace facing radiated tortoises.
“We fear that up to 60’000 radiated tortoises are being collected in the South every year. That is too much for a population of maybe 3.5 Million.” said Bernardin Rasolonandrasana, WWF Toliara’s Ecoregional Leader Ala Maiky.
“We are happy to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity by talking about our flagship species here in Ala Maiky (Spiny Forest)” he added.
Rasolonandrasana was the first speaker to address about 70 in audience at the Alliance Française in Toliara, where the WWF conference was held.
Another conservationist speaker, Volanirina Ramahery, Southwest Marine Coordinator at WWF Toliara, talked about marine turtles and their problems.
Expanding on conservation legal policies designed to protect migratory species in Madagascar, she stated: “Although the Malagasy government has signed several international conventions, and poaching as well as trade of marine turtles is prohibited by Malagasy law, there is no real governmental actions for marine turtles conservation”.
Based on observations made during the last few months, conservation partners working on turtle trade mitigation with WWF in the Atsimo Andrefana region voiced their concern. Said Dr. Garth Gripp, a researcher for the NGO Blue Ventures in Andavadoaka: “We found that most of the turtles caught were green turtles and young females”. Reef Doctor’s Shane Abeare stated that poaching in Ranobe Bay had increased greatly since last year’s political turmoil.
But there were also good news. According to WWF in Toliara, the conference was an opportunity to approach the general public and raise awareness for tortoise and turtle conservation. Indeed, the first reactions were very promising.
For instance, Bernardin Rasolonandrasana mentioned a participant from the Vezo people, an ethnic group known for tortoise consumption. “He stood up and asked all conference participants to stop eating tortoise meat henceforth!”he reported.
Rasolonandrasana mentioned also that the radio station at Toliara University had offered to give a helping hand for WWF’s raising awareness campaigns.
Volanirina Ramahery stated: “We have to make people proud of what they have here”. The spiny forest and the marine ecoregion surrounding it are too precious to see them degrading more and more. This conference was a piece of the puzzle representing our efforts for tortoise and turtle conservation. But we will continue our work on the ground and we have to succeed.”
An important feature of the conservation meeting in Toliara was an exhibition about Madagascar’s unique biodiversity.
The participants also enjoyed watching a recent video about the radiated and spider tortoises.