Baly Bay Field Report
…after 1300 man-hours surveying, Andrea and the team found only 9 tortoises…
There are only a few hundred adult Ploughshare Tortoises left in the wild, occupying a tiny geographic area of less than 10 square miles of northwestern Madagascar. These minuscule numbers and the intense demand from the illegal wildlife trade, make the Ploughshare the most endangered tortoise in the world.
Turtle Conservancy and Andrew Sabin Family Foundation sponsored PhD student, Andrea Currylow, recently visited the Baly Bay region of Madagascar to study and assess the remaining wild Ploughshare Tortoises. Andrea and the team visited five sites known to have the rare tortoises and conducted population surveys. Each tortoise found was engraved to help prevent it from being poached. However, after 7200 man-hours surveying, Andrea and the team found only a handful of tortoises, highlighting the poaching problem and need to increase tortoise patrol efforts. With help from partners in-kind, Andrea has begun to establish monitored sub-populations of tortoises at multiple locations across the habitat. Using radio-telemetry techniques to physically keep track of individual tortoises and dissuade poaching, Andrea also collects important data on health, reproduction, and activity of the Ploughshares in the wild.
Andrea’s project builds upon and contributes to a program, initiated by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Turtle Conservancy, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, of forest patrols to report poaching activity. Including radio-telemetry to monitor the locations of specific tortoises allows us to keep tabs on the animals themselves, and the areas targeted by the poachers. Thus far, the radio-telemetry has proven to be a successful tool in these efforts. One radio-telemetry patrolman reported encountering signs of poaching activity at one of the most accessible sites. Over the course of several weeks, poachers set up a covert campsite and destroyed monitoring equipment before finally being driven off by increased patrols and the end of the tortoise active season. Without the radio-telemetry monitoring, the poacher’s presence would have remained unknown and the increase in patrols that dispelled them would not have been accomplished.
The simple act of the patrolmen using the equipment to routinely visit the exact location of the tortoise prevents poachers from being in that same place if they hope not to be caught. However, more resources are needed to make this happen. Turtle Conservancy, Andrea, and DWCT are looking for further funding to bolster the patrols, get them the necessary equipment, and keep Ploughshare Tortoises from disappearing in the wild.