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Hogle Zoo helps in rescue of nearly 10,000 tortoises found in massive poaching bust

Photos of some of the almost 10,000 radiated turtles discovered as part of a poaching bust that will get help for an endangered tortoise. (Photo: Courtesy Turtle Survival Alliance)

(KUTV) The Hogle Zoo is on a mission to save the critically endangered radiated tortoise, so when 10,000 of them were discovered inside a private residence as part of a poaching bust, it jumped to help with the rescue.

A private home in Madagascar was discovered where the animals covered nearly every inch of every room — but many without access to food or water. Hundreds have died from dehydration and illness since the April 10 discovery, but the Utah zoo, along with the Turtle Survival Alliance, or TSA, and other accredited zoos and aquariums launched a rescue.

"I don't think the word 'overwhelming' comes close to describing what the Turtle Survival Alliance is dealing with here," Rick Hudson, President of the TSA said. "We were already caring for 8,000 tortoises in Madagascar, now that number has more than doubled overnight."

Hogle Zoo was part of building a TSA conservation center in 2015 that rehabilitates confiscated animals, according to information from the zoo. It sent a veterinary technician to help with the newly discovered animals and to offer supporting building more holding pens and shade for the animals. Medical supplies and animals experts were also sent to help with the crisis.

The radiated tortoise has a high domed shell that has a star pattern that makes them highly prized. It is believed the discovered animals were destined to be sold to the pet trade, possibly to Asia. The animal's population in the wild has declined by more than 80 percent in the last 30 years. It is believed they could be extinct in the wild in less than 20 years.

Hogle Zoo said it has been involved in work in Madagascar since 2010, including building triage centers that help with rehabilitating animals.

"The number or tortoises from this confiscation is so overwhelming that we have to invest more in building new housing, hiring additional staff and security guards and getting food for these animals," Hogle Zoo Vice President Christina Castellano said. "We really have to ramp up what we're doing to give them the care they need to survive."

She will be part of the next wave of support sent to the region, along with a zoo reptile keeper to train other keepers in husbandry methods for tortoises, including methods to monitor health, food intake and growth.

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