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Wednesday
Feb062013

Ploughshares to benefit from ‘Party of the week’

Ploughshare Tortoise: a threatened flagship species. © Chris R Shepherd / TRAFFIC New York, USA, February 2013—The Turtle Ball, a gala dinner and art auction hosted by the Turtle Conservancy, was held at the Bowery Hotel, Manhattan, New York, this February to raise funds in support of turtle and tortoise conservation.  The New York Times and New York Post dubbed the first Annual Turtle Ball, ‘Party of the Week’.

Eric Goode and Craig Stanford of Turtle Conservancy, Lee Durrell of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC were the four speakers at the benefit, each highlighting the plight of turtles and tortoises.

The gala highlighted one of Turtle Conservancy’s flagship species, the Ploughshare Tortoise, which is considered among the rarest species in the world.  Illegal harvest and trade as pets is the greatest threat to this species, which is native only to the island of Madagascar, and considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

"High levels of demand and poor levels of enforcement in countries such as Madagascar, Indonesia and Thailand are to blame for the continual decline in this incredibly rare species" said Dr Chris Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC in South-East Asia.  "Multi-national enforcement efforts are key to disrupting the highly organized criminal networks moving this species from Madagascar to consumer countries."

The population of Ploughshare Tortoises in the wild is estimated to be as few as 400 individuals, and is declining fast.

Two days after the benefit, experts from around the world came together for the 2nd International Angonoka Working Group meeting.  The Working Group, made up of Turtle Conservancy, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, TRAFFIC, and the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Specialist Group met to discuss in situ and ex situ conservation efforts, and the need to enhance effective enforcement efforts, and to reduce demand for the Ploughshare Tortoise.  A number of activities to protect the species in the wild and to reduce demand are already underway, including better enforcement in the species’s native habitat through increased patrols, and defacing the beautiful shell that makes the species so poplar by branding them, making them not only less attractive, but also easily recognized.

“As the Ploughshare Tortoise, one of the most beautiful of tortoises, is nearing extinction in the wild, desperate measures are being put into practice - the tortoises are deliberately being engraved using a Dremel tool to make an indelible mark on the top shell of the tortoise.  We are taking this aggressive approach in order to reduce the value, and demand for these animals in the illegal international pet trade while also having a system to monitor those animals in the trade,” says Eric Goode President of the Turtle Conservancy.

It is hoped that in South-East Asian countries, where demand for Ploughshare Tortoises are the highest, governments will also increase their participation in the global effort to ensure this species does not go extinct.

"It is imperative that authorities in consumer countries make every effort to end the trade, prosecute dealers and smugglers and to repatriate seized animals,” said Shepherd.

South-East Asia is not only a source of much of the illegal trade in these amazing animals, but is also increasingly an end market with more highly threatened species being sought after by collectors, hobbyists and dealers.

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