SD Zoo helps rescue more than 10K tortoises from dismal conditions

SAN DIEGO — Police discovered more than 10,000 critically endangered tortoises stuffed wall-to-wall in a Madagascar home last week, and San Diego Zoo Global experts are part of the team now relocating and providing care for the animals.

A Zoo Global release explained that 10,976 tortoises were crammed into the home. They covered virtually every room of the house and had no access to food or water. Hundreds died from dehydration and illness.

But Zoo Global experts and the Turtle Survival Alliance — a global group that comes to the aid of endangered turtle species around the world — have worked with other animal rescuers to hydrate and give health evaluations to the surviving tortoises.

It’s likely the animals were collected as part of the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia, where they are prized for the star pattern found on their highly domed shells.

“Unfortunately we have had a number of situations in recent years where our staff has been called upon to assist animals that have been caught up in wildlife trafficking,” said Kim Lovich, curator of reptiles at the San Diego Zoo.

“This is an overwhelming situation, where we recognize that every individual we save may make the difference between this species’ long-term survival and its extinction. We have to help.”

The tortoises have been relocated to a 17-acre private wildlife facility in Ifaty, Madagascar.