Nearly two months after more than 10,000 critically endangered tortoises were seized from wildlife traffickers, medical teams say signs of progress are showing.
In April, Zoo Knoxville herpetologist Stephen Nelson traveled to Madagascar to help out after thousands of radiated tortoises were found in a home.
"My role was to help with triage," he said.
In June, the Turtle Survival Alliance thanked Zoo Knoxville and others for their role in saving the tortoises, saying response teams were still hard at work to provide relief.
"Team Radiata 4" continued to provide daily medical and animal care for thousands of tortoises, and although they said they are seeing fewer new medical cases and a significant decrease in mortality -- the endangered creatures are "not out of the woods yet."
The main health concern for the tortoises, popular in the illegal pet trade, was dehydration because they had little or no access to fresh water in the house.
Nelson helped soak them in water to rehydrate, helped get them eating, and checked for injuries that needed further medical treatment.
He said for the conditions they were kept in, they were in pretty good condition. The group that ran the rescue, the Turtle Survival Alliance, is hoping to release the survivors into protected sanctuaries in their native range in the near future.
"Between now and then, the nearly 10,000 animals will still be reliant on us for daily animal care and life support," the group said. "With daily care including “life checks,” health assessments, hydration assistance, and feeding, the long-term effort to rehabilitate these animals will be colossal."
"Our zoo has a long history of breeding and working with Malagasy tortoises, so it just made sense for us to go over there and help," Nelson said.
Update: April 24, 2018
A Zoo Knoxville herpetologist is hard at work as part of an international team of experts working to save thousands of rare tortoises.
Stephen Nelson traveled to Madagascar last week to help out after more than 10-thousand critically endangered radiated tortoises were found in a home. They were likely bound for the illegal pet trade.
Overall, considering the conditions they were kept in, most of the tortoises are doing fine, according to an update from the Turtle Survival Alliance.
You can read the full update on Zoo Knoxville's Facebook page:
Original story: April 19. 2018
A Zoo Knoxville herpetologist will travel halfway around the world on an international reptile rescue mission.
Last week, 10,976 critically endangered radiated tortoises were confiscated from a home in Madagascar. They were likely collected to be sold in the illegal pet trade.
Zoo Knoxville helps withTortoise rescue in Madagascar
The small reptiles were taken to a medical triage facility to be evaluated, but hundreds of the tortoises have already died from dehydration, malnutrition and illness. The Turtle Survival Alliance has called in experts from around the world to help care for them.
One of those is Stephen Nelson, who in addition to his work at Zoo Knoxville is the studbook keeper for the Radiated Tortoise Species Survival Plan, a collaborative program of accredited zoos around the world working to save these tortoises from extinction.
The tortoises’ domed shell with a striking star pattern make them very popular in the illegal pet trade, particularly in Asia. If it isn't stopped, it's likely the species could be extinct in the wild in the next 15-30 years.
“This is an overwhelming situation the Turtle Survival Alliance is dealing with. Zoo Knoxville is committed to taking action against the illegal wildlife trade that is putting so many species on the verge of extinction. We will be actively involved in supporting the TSA for the duration of this crisis,” said Zoo President and CEO Lisa New.
Zoo Knoxville is one of the top zoo’s in the world for the breeding and husbandry of Malagasy tortoises. Its Herpetology Curator, Michael Ogle, currently serves as the coordinator of the Radiated Tortoise Species Survival Plan.
If you'd like to help with the rescue effort, Zoo Knoxville officials say you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Turtle Survival Alliance Foundation at www.turtlesurvival.org.