The trade, driven by international demand for the endemic radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and the spider tortoise (Pyxis arachnoids) as well as local consumption, is driving the slow-to-reproduce species toward extinction in the wild. Additionally, tortoise trafficking poses a risk to local authorities, with poachers increasingly likely to be "armed and dangerous," according to WWF.
Some 7,855 living tortoises and more than 4.8 tonnes of meat were seized between 2001 and 2010 according TRAFFIC, WWF's wildlife trade monitoring program. TRAFFIC estimates the seizures represent only two percent of the estimated 600,000 tortoises collected from the southern Madagascar during that period.
Radiated tortoise in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett Butler
Tortoises are collected as a local delicacy as well as the international pet trade, where the reptiles fetch high prices.