129 endangered tortoises return to Madagascar

Almost a month after the Customs officers rescued two endangered species of Madagascan tortoises from an abandoned bag at the T2, which could have ended up as exotic pets or food, the 129 reptiles will embark on their homeward journey today. Their journey home via Air Mauritius flight MK 749 was coordinated by the efforts put in by various wildlife organisation led by Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).

Volunteers pack the tortoises for a comfortable journey home
Volunteers pack the tortoises for a comfortable journey home

Speaking to mid-day, an Air Mauritius officer said, “We have taken all the necessary permissions and are adhering by all the norms laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The animals will be kept in the cargo and handled by the various agencies involved in ensuring that the rare species reach their original habitat.”

Rescue and care
On March 20, Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) searched an unclaimed bag and recovered specimens of the endangered radiated tortoise (139) and angonoka tortoise (7) from it. Unfortunately, two of the radiated tortoises couldn’t survive the stress of transportation, followed by another 15 in the coming days.

Investigation had then revealed that both the species are highly endangered and are listed in Appendix-I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As per the CITES regulations, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (Western region) took custody of the live specimens and placed them in the foster care of officers from Karnala Bird Sanctuary on March 21 after coordinating with the state forest department.

Probe also revealed that the luggage belonged to smuggler Lal Bahadur, who had travelled by Air Mauritius flight MK 748 to Mumbai and left for Nepal via a Jet Airways flight.

“CITES Management Authority of India, Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Government of India had taken up the matter with the CITES Management Authority of Madagascar and Madagascar Authorities of TSA in coordinating with the WCCB in repatriating the tortoises to Madagascar,” said M Maranko, regional deputy director (WCCB) and assistant management authority (CITES).

Safe exit
To ensure they do not lose any more of the fragile reptiles, Indian team of TSA deputed wildlife veterinarian Dr Gowri Mallapur to assist WCCB. Since their confiscation, the tortoises are being treated regularly besides giving them a special diet to reduce mortality rate and help them recuperate from the stress.

“While local NGOs like Nisarg Sakha from Panvel helped in caring for the animals, Thane Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provided logistic support for the repatriation process. The tortoises left Karnala at 2 pm and reached the T2 Cargo terminal around 5 pm. Moreover, Air Mauritius and Allied Aviation waived-off the freight charges for transporting these animals,” Maranko said.

Dr Shailendra Singh, country director for TSA India, said, “Angonoka tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) will be incorporated in a breeding programme attempted in Madagascar to ensure the species survival while the Radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) will be released back into the wild after quarantine and health assessment.”

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