More than 10,000 critically endangered Radiated Tortoises were discovered by local police at a private residence in Madagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa.
According to the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), which assisted with the rescue and is tending to the endangered reptiles, virtually every room in the house was covered with tortoises that had no access to food or water.
Sadly, following the seizure, hundreds died from dehydration and illness.
Experts from the TSA and several zoos and aquariums were dispatched with medical supplies, and are administering medical care for the sick or injured tortoises and general animal care.
The tortoises are currently being cared for at SOPTOM-Villages des Tortues, a 17-acre private wildlife facility in Ifaty, Madagascar.
“I don’t think the word overwhelming comes close to describing what the Turtle Survival Alliance is dealing with here,” Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance said in a statement on Wednesday. “We were already caring for 8,000 tortoises in Madagascar, now that number has more than doubled overnight.”
While it is not known how long the tortoises have been in the home, it is believed that the tortoises were collected for the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia where their unique domed shells sadly make them highly prized.
It is estimated that Radiated Tortoise populations in the wild have declined more than 80% in the last three decades. At this rate of decline, it is estimated that the Radiated Tortoise could be functionally extinct in the wild in less than 20 years.
Given the scale of the rescue efforts, TSA expects to send additional teams of veterinary experts from the United States to Madagascar over the coming weeks and months.