KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Following a massive rescue mission three years ago, the Turtle Survival Alliance is releasing around 1,000 critically endangered Radiated Tortoises back into the wild of Madagascar. The release is part of a pilot project that will be used to form a strategy for the eventual release of over 26,000 confiscated tortoises.
Back in 2018, nearly 11,000 radiated tortoises were found in a single home. The animals were in need of medical care, food and water. A Zoo Knoxville specialist traveled to Madagascar to help care for those tortoises in medical triage.
“This historic reintroduction represents a critical juncture for the TSA-Madagascar program and our country’s iconic Radiated Tortoise. If we can establish a reliable and effective method to return confiscated tortoises to their native landscape in protective communities, then we can begin to draw down the massive numbers we are supporting in captivity,” said TSA-Madagascar Director Herilala Randriamahazo.
The country’s government teamed up with the local Mahafaly and Antandroy peoples to manage a community forest for these tortoises. A portion of the tortoises released will be equipped with radio transmitters and GPS trackers to monitor their movements, habitat use, and survival. This information will help to guide future releases.
According to the Turtle Survival Alliance, the Radiated Tortoise was once the world’s most abundant tortoise, with an estimated 12 million tortoises formerly inhabiting the coastal spiny forests and scrublands of southern Madagascar. The tortoises are considered sacred by the Mahafaly and Antandroy peoples, who the alliance says protected the animals.
Zoo Knoxville continues to be a partner of the Turtle Survival Alliance, offering care and funding for the conservation organization.