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Hunt starts after rare tortoises go missing

Hunt starts after rare tortoises go missing

The head of the Bang Phra wildlife breeding centre has been removed following the disappearance of 78 near-endangered Madagascan tortoises from the facility. The transfer came after the tortoises disappeared from a state-run breeding facility in Chon Buri’s Si Racha district last month.

An investigation has been launched, said Thanya Netithammakun, director-general of the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Tuesday. The former head of the facility, Songklod Phuthong, has been removed, and Phadet Laithong, a senior forest official, put in his place.

A panel is looking into how six Angonoka tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 72 Radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) had disappeared from the facility, he said. The Madagascan tortoises are a protected species under the Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) list and had been seized in prior smuggling cases.

« These tortoises could not just disappear without anyone knowing. The public need to know what happened, » said Mr Thanya. The Cites committee was closely monitoring the case.

This critically endangered beauty is a Ploughshare tortoise, or Astrochelys yniphora, one of the rarest land tortoises in the world, and one for which ‘collectors’ will pay big baht. (Photo via Creative Commons licence)

Adisorn Noochdumrong, department deputy director, said an initial probe determined the tortoises disappeared from their cages at 1am on May 12. Police had checked security camera footage at the breeding plant. The cages’ locks were cut open and disappeared along with the tortoises, he said.

The cages were in a dark corner of the facility. Staff claimed the cages had to be kept in a dark place to avoid the risk of tortoises being attacked and killed by bees, said Mr Adisorn.

Teunchai Noochdumrong, director of the Wildlife Conservation Office, said the tortoises are precious animals and desired by rich collectors.

The Radiated tortoise, or Astrochelys radiata has one of the most spectacular colourings in the reptile world. Its carapace is marked by brilliant yellow lines that radiate from the centre of each plate. (Photo courtesy Omaha Zoo)