Saving the world’s most endangered tortoises: Thirteen Ploughshare Tortoises sent to Europe for a new life

Nature Conservation

In the past two weeks, KFBG has sent 13 Ploughshare Tortoises to Europe to join conservation breeding programmes. They are part of the 30 confiscated tortoises which were placed under the care of KFBG since 2009. A year after the first group of eight Ploughshare Tortoises left KFBG for the Behler Chelonian Centre in the United States, we are finally sending the last batch of thirteen tortoises to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and North of England Zoological Society in the United Kingdom, and, to Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands for a new life.

The Ploughshare Tortoise (or Angonoka Tortoise) is one of the world’s rarest tortoises. This beautiful animal, which lives in the Baly Bay region of northwest Madagascar, has a domed carapace and gets its name from the projected gular scute of the plastron which resembles a ploughshare. The turtle can grow to a size of 48 cm in length.

The current threats of habitat loss and poaching have pushed the tortoise to the brink of extinction. It is estimated that there are only about 300 Ploughshare Tortoises left in the wild and they are disappearing fast! The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorized the species as Critically Endangered (CR) in 2008. It is now known as one of the 10 most endangered animals in the world.

Amongst all the threats, illegal collection has contributed most to the disappearance of these animals in the wild. Owing 

to their rarity, they have been extensively harvested to fulfil the ever-growing international demand from the illegal pet trade market. Many of them are smuggled to Asia and are sold at a high price on the black market. Despite the fact that the Ploughshare Tortoise is protected under the Madagascan National Law and is listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1975 with the purpose of banning all international trade in this animal, the large potential profit is a great incentive for illegal traders to carry on with their activities.

To help conserve this valuable animal, KFBG were holding 30 Ploughshare Tortoises on a temporary basis on behalf of the Hong Kong Government, which had been confiscated and sent to our Wild Animal Rescue Centre in 2009 and 2010. This number had made KFBG the holder of the biggest ex-situ population of Ploughshare Tortoises. These animals represent a significant proportion of the world population of Ploughshare Tortoises and will now become the basis of an ex-situ assurance colony for the conservation of this critically endangered species.

All 30 Ploughshare tortoises are now under care in conservation breeding programmes in Europe and the United States, and we are holding out the hope that one day, these rescued tortoises and their offspring can be sent back to their homeland, and there, they can live freely without the pressure of being hunted.

If you find any illegal wildlife trade activities, please report them to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department at (852) 2150 6978 or KFBG at (852) 2483 7136 / (852) 6713 9881.