afrol News, 30 September - With the political chaos in Madagascar, reports of environmental crimes are also booming. In addition to increased deforestation, also Madagascar's four endemic tortoise species are being decimated.
According to a new survey conducted in Madagascar by the environmental group WWF, poaching of these endemic tortoises is reaching new heights. "Ten or more zebu carts filled with around 100 terrestrial tortoises each are leaving the Mahafaly Plateau in south Madagascar every week," the survey found.
The tortoises, only found in Madagascar, are finding a wider use. They have a long traditional use as bushmeat, especially on Malagasy festivals. But the international pet trade, especially geared towards the Asian market, have given poachers and illegal hunters an extra motivation.
According to the survey, also the "ongoing political instability has seen a large jump in illegal collection."
Poachers now were also were said to be "much more likely to be armed and dangerous," with the gendarmes of the Toliara region suspecting a well established network behind the poachers now lies behind the trade.
Some 7,855 living tortoises and more than 4.8 tonnes of meat were seized between 2001 and 2010 by the gendarmes. But this is only thought to represent around two percent of an estimated 600,000 tortoises collected from the unique eco-region during that period, according to local sources.
Radiated and spider tortoises are among only four terrestrial tortoise species found in Madagascar and their range is limited to the unique but also under pressure southern spiny forest.
"The population decline of these flagship species is alarming," said WWF's Madagascar coordinator Tiana
Malagasy radiated tortoises were found for sale in Chatuchak Market, Bangkok, although their international trade is prohibited
Ramahaleo. "If we don't manage to halt tortoise poaching and habitat destruction in the South, we might lose both tortoises in the wild in less than fifty years," he added.
Radiated tortoise meat is a delicacy for the Vezo and Antanosy ethnic groups in southern Madagascar and people from the High Plateau around the capital Antananarivo during special events such as Christmas, Easter and Independence Day - accounting for peaks in poaching for a few weeks before the festivals.
But Madagascar's endemic tortoises are also highly sought after in exotic pet markets. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade programme of WWF, recently reported radiated tortoises and other threatened Malagasy species openly on sale in pet markets in both Thailand and Indonesia, while TRAFFIC also reports a number of occasions when travellers have been arrested with Malagasy tortoises in their luggage in the region.
Local environmentalists now hope the local population can be persuaded to help save their tortoises. "For the next 5 years, WWF will empower civil society and establish an information network in the south to help the police make sure tortoise trafficking does not go unpunished," said Mr Ramahaleo.
Environmental criminality has increased rapidly since last year's coup in Madagascar, with reports indicating that the current government is involved in the trade of threatened species and illegal logging. Before the coup, Madagascar was heading towards an African model state in environmental terms.
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