Four of the rarest and most endangered tortoises in the world are being displayed at Chester Zoo in a bid to bring to the attention the dangers that the species faces.
The ploughshare tortoise is recognised as ‘red listed and critically endangered’ by the International Union of Conservation of Nature, a body which aims to preserve the most rare animals. There are only 500 estimated to be left in their native country of Madagascar.
Dr Gerardo Garcia, the zoo’s curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, said: “The ploughshare tortoise is iconic because of its beautiful shell but the species is under huge pressure for its survival.
“There’s a very real possibility the species could be lost forever due to illegal trafficking for the exotic pet trade. Most of these illegally exported tortoises are sold in markets in South East Asia.
The illegal trafficking of animals around the world turns over around £15 million a year, and is the fourth biggest crime ring on the globe economically. The tortoises were originally handed to Chester Zoo five years ago after being confiscated by Hong Kong customs in 2009.
Visitors are now able to see the endangered species at the zoo, and have responded well to the new additions.
Alex Knight, public relations manager at Chester Zoo, told JMU Journalism: “The reaction of the public to our new foursome has been overwhelming – from the enthusiastic visitors who have made a beeline for the Dragons in Danger habitat here in the zoo where the tortoises are living, to the great many people who have seen press coverage and shared the story on social media. This wonderful interest has been really encouraging.
YouTube: Chester Zoo
“The illegal wildlife trade is a huge global problem. Our four individual tortoises, now successfully rehabilitated, have really helped focus people’s attention on one of the most pressing challenges in conservation – an issue which is driving a great number of species to the brink of extinction. Together, we can work to end the illegal wildlife trade in a generation.”
Chester Zoo will be the first national zoo in the UK to home and display the endangered reptiles, acting to promote the illegal exporting of rare breeds of animals.
Dr Garcia continued: “Conservation has never been more critical. We can’t sit back and watch this important species simply disappear and our long-term ambition is to maintain a safety net population at the zoo.”