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Over 10,000 tortoises were found in a house in Madagascar. Image: DREEF ATSIMO ANDREFANA/National Geographic

Over 10,000 tortoises were found in a house in Madagascar. Image: DREEF ATSIMO ANDREFANA/National Geographic


The Inertia

In a small town called Toliara on the southwestern coast of Madagascar, officials took notice of a relatively innocuous two-story house. They took notice because the smell coming out of it was horrendous. When they got into the house, they found something very strange: over 10,000 tortoises.

“You cannot imagine. It was so awful,” Soary Randrianjafizanaka, the head of Madagascar’s environmental agency, told National Geographic. “They had tortoises in the bathroom, in the kitchen, everywhere in the house.”

According to reports, when authorities entered the house, 9,888 of the tortoises were alive and in poor condition while 180 were dead. Within a week, however, 574 tortoises had died from either dehydration or infection. The species was a rare one called a radiated tortoise, and it’s only found in Madagascar.

Image: DREEF ATSIMO ANDREFANA/National Geographic

Officials were alerted to the house because of the smell. Image: DREEF ATSIMO ANDREFANA/National Geographic

It’s illegal to take radiated tortoises from the wild in Madagascar and their sale is banned in most countries. Still, though, poachers take them to sell to Southeast Asia and China, as well as locally for meat. Tortoise poaching is “rampant” in the area. Randrianjafizanaka believes that the house was part of a much larger operation—the number of tortoises, she says, is proof. “We don’t know exactly who the big person is, but we know there’s a big boss,” she said.

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Three people have been arrested. Two men and a woman have been taken into custody. The woman is the homeowner. The tortoise will probably not be returned to the wild, where poachers would likely just take them again. Instead, they’ll be kept in captivity.


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