Radiated Tortoise Team


As an iconic species of southern Madagascar, the Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) is only one of four endemic species of tortoises on the island. The Radiated Tortoise has experienced drastic declines in its abundance over recent years stemming from illegal poaching for bushmeat, the pet trade, and deforestation of its spiny forest habitat. The life history characteristics of this species make it extremely vulnerable, and therefore this species is currently listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Underlying the primary threats to the Radiated Tortoise was a widespread lack of awareness about the decline of the species, the cultural and ecological importance of the species, the risks of over-harvesting, and the local and international laws protecting the species. Our conservation campaign centered on addressing critical information needs to build knowledge about the primary threats to tortoises at both local and regional levels, focusing on villages in the Southern region that play a critical role in the conservation of this species. This was accomplished through three campaign strategies including 1) the design, development, and distribution of educational materials including a husbandry manual, educational workbook, cartoon, posters, and wristbands, 2) supporting and organizing local educational outreach efforts including local law enforcement training and community events, and 3) supporting the collaborative efforts of conservation groups working in the region through grant writing support as well as the design, development, and distribution of a campaign logo and a Campaign Handbook.

Radiated Tortoise


    The in-country portions of the campaign were conducted in villages identified by our partners as being critical to minimizing the threats to the tortoise and protection of key populations. The villages included:

    Ambovombe, Tsiombe, Marovato, Cap Sainte Marie Special Reserve, Antsakomasy, Lavanono,

    Tragnovaho, Beloha, Ampotaka, Marolinta, Ampanihy, and Ifaty (see map in Appendix A).

    Our major project outcomes can be summarized under our three primary campaign strategies:

    I) The design, development, and distribution of educational materials

    We worked to develop and distribute educational information and materials to build public awareness and promote understanding of the conservation needs of the tortoise. These materials were distributed through various partner groups and at the events described below, as well as presented to the Director General of Madagascar National Parks in Antananarivo, and to the newly created Tortoise Conservation Commission in Ambovombe. Materials and photos are shown in Appendix A.

    1. Husbandry manual to provide information for law enforcement (Appendix D). We worked with our partner groups and Michael Ogle, Assistant Curator of Herpetology at the Knoxville Zoo to support the development of a detailed manual providing information on species identification, threats tortoise conservation, domestic and international legal protections, the roles and responsibilities of those charged with enforcing the laws, confiscations and triage, husbandry protocols for caring for tortoises while in temporary holding facilities, and contact details for people that can provide in-country support for assisting reintroductions. This was translated into Malagasy and distributed at training workshops held in March of 2012. The husbandry manual will be distributed widely including to all partner organizations working on Radiated Tortoise conservation.
    2. Educational Comic to teach kids about the issue. We developed a short comic strip booklet aimed at teaching children about the threats to the radiated tortoise and encourage them to get involved and spread the word, using images and cartoon characters to help get the message across. These have been translated into French, and will be further translated into Malagasy for use in Southern Madagascar.
    3. Kids workbook to make learning fun. Building on the cartoon characters we developed, we designed an interactive workbook for use in local schools, to engage children in learning about the tortoise through games and puzzles. These will be translated for local use.
    4. Arm bands to show solidarity for the cause. About 3,000 colored armbands were distributed to the target communities. The campaign message “Arovo Ty Sokake,” or “Protect the Radiated Tortoise,” was printed on the armbands and distributed to school children, adults, village elders, government officials, and law enforcement personal. Arm bands were extremely popular with children and adults.
    5. Posters to get the word out. Five hundred posters were distributed to the target communities. The posters were designed to include an image of the Radiated Tortoise, one of two relevant slogans that inspired protection for the species and environment, and the logos of more than ten organizations that are supporting the people and tortoise conservation in the region.
    6. Stickers to renew pride and cultural value for the tortoise. Ten thousand stickers were produced with our traditional campaign “logo” image. The villagers placed the stickers on doors, books, 3 windows, signs, bottles, shop fronts, etc. to show their pride, support for tortoise conservation, and as a message to outsiders and poachers that they are a community that rejects poaching.
    7. T-shirts to promote engagement and continued investment in tortoise conservation and husbandry activities. 75 bright orange t-shirts were designed and distributed to participants in the tortoise husbandry training workshops to reward engagement and support continued commitment. 

    II) Supporting and organizing local educational outreach events

    Our educational materials were distributed at outreach activities that promoted awareness of the need for tortoise conservation and provided training for officials and community members responsible for protecting the species. These activities included:

    1. Husbandry workshops to improve the care of confiscated tortoises. The reintroduction program for this species focuses on the repatriation of confiscated tortoises to community managed and sacred forests where tortoises have been locally extirpated. Two husbandry workshops were conducted at Antsakomasy and the Village de Tortue in Ifaty in March of 2012 to increase the quality of care for confiscated tortoises and to introduce the concepts and guidelines for the development of a science-based, IUCN reintroduction strategy. The approximately 50 trainees included the police, gendarmes, Madagascar National Parks, village elders, and the Forestry Service. All participants received armbands, stickers, and posters and watched the movies as part of the workshop itinerary.
    2. Movie nights at the nine villages targeted for this campaign. A movie created by the Turtle.
      Survival Alliance (TSA), The Orianne Society, and MOZ Images in 2011 was shown in association with two locally made films to raise awareness about the conservation of the Radiated Tortoise. Armbands, posters, and stickers were distributed to the audiences at the end of each screening.
    3. New school opening in Antsakomasy. The materials were distributed on the opening day of the new primary school in Antsakomasy by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA). It was a great day of celebration not only for the school, but also for the benefits that the entire community gained from protecting the Radiated Tortoise.

    III) Supporting the collaborative efforts of conservation groups working in the region

    1. Developing a logo to provide a common campaign symbol for partners. We worked with partner groups and a graphic designer to develop a regional campaign logo to serve as the central symbol of the campaign that will help tie together project activities and represent one unified effort. We used partner surveys and discussions to refine the goals and symbols of the logo, and ultimately developed a general, modern campaign logo as well as a more traditional image signifying the protection that men provide to their communities, the nurturing role of women in the family, and the benefits of a healthy environment and future for all through the protection of tortoises and their environment. Logos were used on campaign materials and products, and will continue to be used by partners in future campaigns in the region.
    2. Providing grant writing assistance to ensure financial support for the campaign. As described further below, we provided significant support for grant applications for our partner organizations, including drafting and submitting five grant applications, assisting with drafting and tracking budgets, and developing grant reports.
    3. Developing a Campaign Handbook (currently being finalized) to provide a comprehensive resource for partners who will carry on this work going forward. The handbook is intended to consolidate existing knowledge, established relationships, and in-country resources in a central place for those who continue to work to increase community involvement at the village level and build awareness of the threats to the tortoise throughout the region. We believe that providing a centralized campaign workbook that pulls together campaign resources, messaging alternatives and recommendations, scientific resources, educational materials, and partners and contacts will help to pull together lessons learned, focus and coordinate campaign messages across partner groups, and facilitate others to build on the progress we have made. In addition, we hope that this resource will provide the needed information for those interested in working on the ground, by sharing our resources and conservation success.

    Other outcomes

    In addition to engaging hundreds of local people in the campaign to protect the radiated tortoise, and contributing to building a sense of pride and investment in conservation, one exciting outcome that came out of the outreach work over the last two years was the June 2012 signing of a local “Dina,” or common law contract among communities, to enforce tortoise poaching laws in the region. This contract is built on a commitment to protect tortoises and generally transcends national law, and many partners consider the establishment of this agreement as the single most significant outcome for Radiated Tortoise conservation in more than a decade. Since the Dina, enforcement action on the ground has led to at least4 confiscation events of more than 900 radiated tortoises. The most notable confiscations include a bust in the village of Ampanihy where 2714 Radiated Tortoises were recovered, and the most recent confiscation of 5695 tortoises smuggled out of the country in four suitcases. At present, a similar approach to develop a regional Dina for the Atsimo Andrefana area is taking place, taking into account the social differences between Androy and Atsimo Andrefana Regions. It is expected that the final draft of the Dina adjusted to the context in Atsimo Andrefana will be available by the end of December 2012. Campaign activities also helped generate a number of insights for future work and directions:

    • Great pride still remains for the tortoise and its role in the culture of tribes in the south, but they have to rely on outside assistance to prevent poaching due to intimidation and fear and an overall lack of resources.
    • Significant differences exist between the strategies required for tortoise conservation on the east and west sides of the Menarandra River with the west being infiltrated and intimidated by armed poachers, and the east with an immediate need for a rescue center for confiscated tortoises.
    • A debilitating lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities exist for law enforcement officials, the forestry service, Madagascar National Parks, and the influence and processes associated with the Dina in the apprehension and conviction of poachers.
    • Providing community benefits associated with the tortoise conservation is a powerful motivator.
    • Temporary housing facilities need to be developed at locations that receive the greatest number of confiscated tortoises, and release sites and a regional rehabilitation center are needed.

    Our partnering organizations were instrumental to the successful implementation of our conservation campaign for Radiated Tortoises. The following organizations provided input and direction concerning the focus of our project, funding, and in-country support. Further, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by TSA, Orianne Society, WWF Madagascar, Conservation Fusion, Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, Nautilus Ecology, Knoxville Zoo, and TRAFFIC Malaysia in August 2011. Our work is indebted to these organizations that helped further the conservation of Radiated Tortoises.

    • Conservation Fusion
      Mission: Educating to build and strengthen our world. Engaging individuals and communities in education about the world’s unique biodiversity, promoting knowledge and understanding while instilling ownership and ultimately responsible, sustainable stewardship on a local and global scale.
    • Knoxville Tennessee Zoo
      Mission: Celebrate the wonders of the natural world. Through education, conservation, exhibition, research and recreation, the zoo will tell the stories of the animals, the plants and the people who make up the communities of the earth.
    • Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP)
      Mission: Protecting Madagascar’s last 10% of forest through research, education, and outreach.
    • Madagascar National Parks
      Mission: It assures the conservation and the lasting and rational management of the national network of the national parks and reserves of Madagascar.
    • Orianne Society
      Mission: The Orianne Society works with a diverse group of partners to achieve success by using sound science to direct on‐the‐ground conservation. We are focused on outcomes and succeed through dedication and hard work.
    • S.O.P.T.O.M
      Mission: SOPTOM focuses on conservation, education and rehabilitation of turtles in Europe and Madagascar.
    • Turtle Conservancy
      Mission: The Turtle Conservancy is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization for the conservation of turtles and tortoises around the world.
    • Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF)
      Mission: To ensure that no species of tortoise or freshwater turtle becomes extinct and that sustainable populations of all species persist in the wild.
    • Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)
      Mission: Transforming passion for turtles into effective conservation action through a global network of living collections and recovery programs.
    • WWF Madagascar
      WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

    To increase public awareness about the plight of Radiated Tortoises, we chose to focus on in-country education and outreach rather than media, largely because our target audience has very limited access to the Internet, television, or newspapers, and illiteracy in the region is high. To increase awareness of the species in the US, and internationally, one of our partners, TSA continues to blog about in-country visits, confiscations, and outreach to villages–many of which were supported through our fundraising and other efforts. TSA also created a short educational video highlighting the plight of the tortoise.

    We did establish key goals for a media campaign which include building a sense of pride in the Radiated Tortoise (in the villages of Ampotaka, Antsakomasy, Itampolo and Lavanono), and reducing illegal poaching (focusing on Fort Dauphin, Tsiombe, Beloha, Itampolo, and Tulear). During the scope of this6 project we suggested that our partners secure an in-country liaison to execute the Media Plan, which would be vital for the successful development and implementation of a media campaign due to the need for in-country knowledge of services and cultural sensitivities. The draft media plan (see Appendix B) includes billboards placed along key roads connecting Fort Dauphin to Tsiombe and Tulear to Itampolo in the Androy Region and a third on the road between Beloha and Tranoroa, which is Route 10. We suggest radio ads, through which many people acquire news reports and updates, and television advertisements to the crisis surrounding the Radiated Tortoises. Advertisements should be aired in Fort Dauphin, Tulear, and Tsiombe during the two months before Christmas as the demand for turtle meat increases around large cultural celebrations. A draft radio PSA is included in Appendix B. Newspaper articles that highlight key message about Radiated Tortoise conservation and continuing efforts made by local officials and conservation organizations. Targeted articles in newspapers in the cities of Tulear and Fort Dauphine prior to the Christmas holiday would be key.

    There are several ways to continue to help ongoing conservation efforts for the Radiated Tortoise. One way is to donate to organizations that fund or implement conservation in southern Madagascar to improve awareness, reduce poaching, and increase protection. Donations should go to:

    Turtle Survival Alliance, which has many efforts to work with local authorities, conduct community outreach, increase community awareness and protection of radiated tortoises, build facilities for local communities,12 and expand capacity to care for confiscated tortoises.

    Conservation Fusion and Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, which work together to conduct both scientific research and community based conservation and education efforts, as well as help care for confiscated tortoises.

    WWF Madagascar, who is also working in the region on Radiated Tortoise conservation. They have had community theater troupes in the past, and are working to increase law enforcement protection of radiated tortoises.

    Spreading the word and raising awareness about the threats facing the Radiated Tortoise may also help.

    While most poached tortoises go towards local demand for tortoise meat, there is also a threat from the illegal wildlife trade, particularly in Asia. Raising awareness about the wildlife trade, avoiding buying or keeping wild animals as pets, and supporting organizations working against illegal trade is very helpful.