Peek-A-Zoo week: Keepers work to save the world’s rarest tortoise

Peek-A-Zoo week: Keepers work to save the world’s rarest tortoise

On #EndageredSpeciesDay the Knoxville Zoo shares their work to save the critically endangered Ploughshare tortoise as well as several other species including radiated and flat-tailed.  

“What people don’t know about turtles and tortoises is that they’re the most endangered class of vertebras in existence. Over half of them are on the verge of some level of endangerment,“ said Michael Ogle, Curator of Herpetology and Ornithology at Zoo Knoxville.

Their work focuses on protecting rare species pf tortoises native to Madagascar all whose populations have been severely impacted by the illegal wildlife trade.  

“Our tortoise collection has a lot of tortoises from Madagascar. We’re one of only two institutions in the US that have all four endemic species of tortoises,” said Ogle.

The radiated tortoise population in the wild has been cut in half during the past 17 years. Much of that is due to smuggling.

“Basically, they take the tortoise, put tape around it except for the head so they don’t move. You’re able to get several hundred in a suitcase and you pay off the right guy at the airport and can get them to Asia where they are sold illegally as pets,” said Ogle.

Ogle says an adult female radiated tortoise could sell for $10,000, and that the star-like pattern on their shells is what makes them so desirable.

Ogle has worked directly with officials in Madagascar to support anti-smuggling measures, He and the Zoo work to provide care information and funds to support the tortoises that are saved from trade and they have developed a successful breeding program in Knoxville as well. 

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