Film Highlights Growing Radiated Tortoise Crisis

by Rick Hudson 

DSC_5816The TSA, in collaboration with The Orianne Society (TOS), hired noted South Africa-based wildlife film makers Moz Images to cover the rapidly worsening crisis with Madagascar‚Äôs Radiated Tortoise.  The film crew of Chris Scarfe and Aaron Gekoski accompanied Rick Hudson and Christina Castellano to Madagascar in September 2011 and the resulting short film - Tortoises in Trouble - is being released this week to multiple outlets and can be seen below.  The film tracks a group of 140 confiscated Radiated Tortoises from the capital city of Antananarivo to their homeland in the south where they are repatriated to a sacred protected forest near the village of Ampotoka.  Along the way, the film exposes ample evidence of massive tortoise consumption, and explores the root causes through interviews with poachers, gendarmes and local judiciary.  The film clip is short ‚Äì only nine minutes ‚Äì and is meant to draw attention to the crisis internationally and to increase the pressure on the government to respond with stricter penalties and enforcement.  However we captured sufficient footage to compile a full length documentary on this story if funding can be identified.

Movie_night_Ampotaka The film was shown locally in Madagascar for the first time in the town of Ambovombe on March 17, in the first of nine ‚Äúmovie nights‚Äù during a two week trip through key communities in the south, including several well-known for eating large numbers of tortoises.  Team Sokake, including our Malagasy colleagues Riana Rakotondrainy, Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA), Sylvain Mahazotahy (TSA), Soary Tahafe, and colleagues from Madagascar National Parks (MNP) presented the film in nine rural villages and communities. 

armbands_and_stickersMovie nights turned out to be wildly popular, especially with children as we handed out thousands of arm bands and stickers with the message Protect the Sokake (local for tortoise).  The film was the focus of a massive media campaign targeting people in the rural south, primarily among communities that traditionally do not harm tortoises.  But with poachers descending from outside areas, from tribes that do not share the local protective custom, tortoise eating locally is on the rise. 

Posters_at_Lavanono_copyMedia materials (arm bands, posters and stickers) were also distributed to participants in two WWF-sponsored husbandry workshops who returned to their home towns and began dutifully displaying the materials in prominent store locations and public places.  I recall arriving in Beloha and feeling a sense of pride as we saw our materials plastered everywhere, and hundreds of kids wearing our brightly colored armbands.  Likewise when we left the fishing village of Lavanono the morning following movie night, literally every house and shop displayed a tortoise poster.

DSC_5782We believe the value of the media campaign is that it helps reinforce the protective traditions among certain tribes in the south that traditionally have not harmed tortoises.  This fady is breaking some in some areas, and people seem to becoming complacent with tortoise killing and eating though it violates their cultural traditions.  The Protect the Sokake message is becoming widespread and obvious now, and lets local people know that the fady still exists, and that people around the world care about what is happening to Madagascar‚Äôs tortoises.  Our challenge going forward will be to sustain this campaign while intensifying the pressure on tortoise poachers.  We believe we can turn the tide on tortoise poaching and it will be an uphill battle.  But for now we have to throw everything we have at this crisis, trying new strategies, until we find something that works.  The future of the Radiated Tortoise hangs in the balance, and depends on our ability to find solutions to this terrible crisis.  Our fervent hope is that this film will help ramp up international support for our effort, and bring increased pressure on the government.   But we will need your help to continue this ambitions program, so please donate today.  Help us help the Sokake!!

Moz Images donated their services to this project and TSA and TOS paid their travel expenses.  We gratefully acknowledge the following donors for their generous support: Andy Sabin Family Foundation, AZA Radiated Tortoise SSP, Ross Popenoe and Tom Motlow.