World Turtle News, 02/04/2018
Conservationist Turns Detective In A Race Against The Illegal Wildlife Trade
It all started with a call from the local veterinary clinic to Richard Lewis, a wildlife conservationist in Madagascar, and a request to remove a microchip from a tortoise. It turns out that this was not just any tortoise. It was an Astrochelys yniphora, the rarest tortoise on the earth. An investigation revealed the alleged owner was a wildlife smuggler, and although the man was arrested, he was fined a meager sum of money and quickly released. This event spurred Lewis, who leads the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, to dig deeper into the issue of the illegal wildlife trade in Madagascar. After hiring a retired police officer, it did not take long to reveal the suspect behind the Ploughshare smuggling dilemma, Atsila Ratsila, and Durrell partnered with Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (Eagle) to track down and perform a raid on his residence. The tortoises were confiscated and delivered to the Turtle Survival Alliance and Ratsila was arrested along with his partners in crime. They were sentenced to jail time but unfortunately were granted bail and released some time later. This is the reality of the situation regarding illegal wildlife trade in Madagascar, but as conservationists like Lewis continue their passionate work, the hope is that we will be able to bring back the country’s species from their path to extinction.
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Photo from DEA/ C. Dani/ I. Jeske/De Agostini.