Arrest of Tortoise Poachers Shakes Up Town

by Herilala Randriamahazo 

Ampanihy_272_RTThe head of Androy Region in southern Madagascar has given the order to return 272 juvenile Radiated Tortoises to the town of Tsihombe, a well-known hub of tortoise poaching and consumption in the south. On the night of September 22, two dealers left Tsihombe by taxi-brousse and were later arrested by the Gendarmes in Ampanihy and placed in prison. An additional 38 juvenile tortoises were later released on the road by an unknown dealer in Tsihombe in response to the arrest in Ampanihy; all are being cared by under the supervision of Sylvain Mahazotahy, TSA's "man in the south" in charge of community relations.

As part of the application of the famous Dina "Lilintane I Androy" (Note: a Dina is a contract among communities in the region that is built on a commitment to protect tortoises and generally transcends national law) a serious awareness campaign took place on Thursday September 27, led by the head of the District, who is based in Tsihombe, and the town's Mayor. In front of the public, obviously moved by the arrest of tortoise poachers, they gave for the first time ever a speech to inform people about the Dina and its strict application as well as the incarceration of six poachers involved in the tortoise trafficking. They also vowed to challenge any attempt to alter the justice procedure of this case.

The news spread very rapidly in town. Surprisingly, the four tortoise dealers arrested after the investigation by the Gendarme were from a healthy family (not poverty-stricken). Some people said that there are more dealers in town. Native people, after so many years of silence, have welcomed the speech and demanded more action from the authorities to protect Tandroy traditions. This unprecedented event has shaken the town of Tsihombe and hopefully by broadcasting the interview with the authorities (conducted by Sylvain) on national TV, we will reach other towns in southern Madagascar.

TSA in its strategy supports the leadership shown by the local authority and the traditional leaders towards tortoise conservation. If seriously applied, the Dina to protect the Radiated Tortoise is the most important initiative taken thus far in tackling the illegal harvesting of tortoises, and will have far greater impact than sporadic conservation actions.

The long – term plan for these groups of tortoises is to reintroduce them to areas where the local tortoise population is depleted from poaching. Having a group this large will allow biologists to test various release strategies to determine the important factors that contribute to establishing a new and stable population.