Madagascar's Radiated Tortoise Speeding Towards Extinction

radiated tortoise photo

Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

The radiated tortoise—one of Madagascar's many unique species—is widely considered the most beautiful tortoise species in the world. However, this prized species—which has managed to persist in the face of intense habitat degradation—may now become a victim of it's own impressive beauty.

Due to poaching and an illegal pet trade, a new survey has found, the radiated tortoise could be extinct within 20 years.Not too long ago, the tortoise was prolific in Madagascar and the neighboring islands of Reunion and Mauritius. In the last few years, however, populations have made a dramatic decline, causing the IUCN to classify the tortoise as "critically endangered." James Deutsch, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Africa Program, commented:

Areas where scores of radiated tortoises could be seen just a few years ago have been poached clean...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.

radiated tortoise ocean photo

Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

The threat to the tortoise began with habitat degradation. Vast swaths of spiny forest were clear-cut and burned to make room for agriculture. This cleared space for invasive plants to move in, stripping the radiated tortoise of its natural habitat.

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Severe drought, rampant poverty, and political instability pushed people to poaching as a means of survival. This activity—which the government has been unable to stop—led to the rapid collapse of tortoise populations around urban areas.

Now, an alarming trend has emerged: Poachers have begun to move into protected areas in search of the remaining populations. Rick Hudson, president of the Turtle Survival Alliance, explained:

Radiated tortoises are truly under siege now as never before, and if we can't draw a line in the sand around protected areas, then we will lose this species...I can't think of a tortoise species that has undergone a more rapid rate of decline in modern times, or a more drastic contraction in range, than the radiated tortoise. This is a crisis situation of the highest magnitude.

The oldest recorded tortoise was a radiated tortoise named Tu'i Malila, which lived to be somewhere between 150 and 250 years old. Such an incredible lifespan is astonishing it is more unbelievable that this beautiful species could be extinct within 20 years.

Read more about Madagascar:
Blind Snakes Among Madagascar's Oldest Species
New Population of Rare Lemurs Discovered in Madagascar
Madagascar Rosewood From National Park On A Boat To China
Toxic Shipwreck in Madagascar Kills Whales, Makes Locals Sick
Read more about turtles and tortoises:
Sea Turtles Are Getting Massacred by Industrial Fishing (Longline, Gillnet and Trawling)
2,000 Endangered Sea Turtles Killed or Injured by Frigid Waters in Florida (Photos)
Plastic Found in 1/3 of Leatherback Turtles, According to Study

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