In 1995, Wildlife Preservation Canada contributed to a breeding facility in Ampijoroa, Madagascar, for one of the rarest land tortoises in the world, the angonoka, or ploughshare, tortoise. This was the first in-situ conservation breeding program in the country. Also known as the ploughshare tortoise or Madagascar tortoise, it is found only in the wild in Madagascar where there are only five populations widely separated. As well as funding the breeding facility with our partners, one being the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Wildlife Preservation Canada contributed to field work, education and community development. In the case of this species, this kind of work was especially vital, as the tortoise is highly valued by the global pet trade and is the target of smugglers.
The breeding station has become highly successful. By 2004, 224 captive-bred juveniles were bred from 17 adults and by 2011, over 400 tortoises had been bred. Reintroductions to the wild began in 2011, when 20 tortoises were introduced to a secure site at Ankarafantsika National Park within their natural habitat. The animals were marked and fitted with microchips and radio transmitters for close monitoring.
The angonoka tortoise is now protected under the law of Madagascar, and listed in CITES as being prohibited to international trade. The shells are being marked to make them less desirable, and local communities are working together to preserve their natural resource, like creating firebreaks to save habitat. Smugglers continue to be a challenge – as recently as 2013, smugglers were arrested with 54 tortoises in a sack, representing over 10% of the angonoka’s wild population.
By 2014, more than 600 angonoka tortoises had been born at Ampijoroa breeding centre, a colony ensuring the survival of the species. A combination of releases and successful breeding in the wild means that a total of 20% of the global population of angonoka tortoises exist in the wild because of the captive breeding centre.