An El Paso Zoo (EPZ) staff member will travel to take part in an effort to save more than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises; after EPZ answered a call dispatched to Animal Experts from Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The tortoises were discovered in April by local police in a private residence in Toliara, Madagascar. The floors of virtually every room in the house were covered with tortoises that had no access to food or water. The tortoises have since been transferred to “Villages des Tortues,” a secure wildlife facility in Ifaty where conservation partners from around the world are headed to assist.
Luis Villanueva, an EPZ zoo keeper, will be in Madagascar for two weeks working with Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) the organization that launched the rescue mission.
“The radiated tortoise is critically endangered due to poaching and deforestation. These magnificent animals can live up 180 years old and are some of the most beautiful Tortoises in the world, which leads to exploitation in the pet trade,” said Villanueva. Hundreds of the tortoises have already died from dehydration and illness.
This is not the first time EPZ has sent staff to help an international cause. In 2016, EPZ worked together with other AZA Zoos to help hand rear baby Penninsular pronghorn antelopes in the El Vizcaino Biosphere Preserve in Baja California Sur, Mexico to create an insurance population for the diminishing species. “El Paso Zoo, as an AZA accredited zoo, demonstrates that its staff has acquired the experience needed to work with endangered species,” said Villanueva.
It is estimated that the radiated tortoise population in the wild has declined more than 80 percent in the last 30 years. There is a real chance they could be extinct in the wild in less than two decades.
Mr. Villanueva leaves Saturday morning at 6 a.m. and will be gone for two weeks. “I am proud of Luis for offering to represent us and that he gets to go and help with this huge project,” said Tammy Sundquist, Americas Collection Supervisor.
Mr. Villanueva will not have any form of communicating with EPZ, but you can learn more and read the Zoo blog where information will be posted by visiting our website and clicking on the El Paso Zoo Adventures link.