14 critically endangered Radiated Tortoises leave Hong Kong for their new home in Berlin

Nature Conservation

(Hong Kong – June 1, 2021) 14 critically endangered juvenile Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) that were rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong arrived safely at Tierpark Berlin, Germany, on 26th April 2021. This marks another success for KFBG’s wild animal rescue work against illegal wildlife trade. The tortoise came from a wildlife smuggling case which resulted in a conviction last year. A foreign smuggler pleaded guilty to smuggling 57 endangered tortoises with an estimated market value of HK$340,000. The smuggling caused a lot of stress and suffering for the tortoises that had their legs taped so they could not move.

In September 2019, 55 critically endangered juvenile Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and two critically endangered Ploughshare Tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) were smuggled into Hong Kong in a passenger's luggage. The flight originated from the African Island of Comoros. The tortoises were confiscated at Hong Kong International Airport by HKSAR Customs and transferred to KFBG’s Wild Animal Rescue Centre for temporary care. On arrival, many were underweight and one had an injured leg. It is assumed that these animals were sourced illegally from the wild to meet the demands of the international pet trade. On 30th March 2020, the HKSAR District Court sentenced the smuggler to 24 months in jail (government press release), the heaviest penalty ever imposed for this illicit act under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance.

After the case was concluded we actively searched for a permanent home for the tortoises, but due to the flight disruptions caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic, it was difficult to arrange air transportation. “We are pleased to report that we were able to send 14 of the radiated tortoises to Tierpark Berlin, Germany on 26th April 2021 where the tortoises have entered a conservation breeding and education programme,” said Dr. Gary Ades, Head of the Fauna Conservation Department of KFBG. Tierpark Berlin covered the costs of the air transportation.

For the remaining 41 tortoises, we are still searching globally for appropriate permanent homes. In the past, we have rehomed this species to three zoos (Darling Downs Zoo, Perth Zoo and Mogo Zoo) in Australia to enter their conservation programmes.

Financial support is essential to help rescued non-native animals to find a new home in suitable countries. Members of the public may contact KFBG at 2483 7279 if they are interested in supporting these animal placements.

KFBG has been working with the judiciary and other conservation NGOs towards a goal of more significant deterrent sentencing for the instigators of these wild life crimes and we hope that future investigations will uncover the organisers of the crimes and not just the transporters of consignments.

About Radiated Tortoises
Radiated Tortoises live for over 50 years and are native to the dry spiny forests of southern and southwestern Madagascar. This species is protected under Malagasy law and are listed under Appendix I on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix I listing bans the trade of wild caught animals for purposes other than recognised scientific or conservation programmes. They are also listed as Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List which means that the species may become extinct in 10 years if threats to the species survival remains.

What you can do
Please do not support illegal wildlife trade. You can help save this species and others by not buying protected tortoises and by reporting any suspected illegal wildlife trade activities to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department at 2150 6978 or KFBG hotline at 2483 7200.

According to the Ordinance (Cap. 586), import, export, re-export or possession of Radiated Tortoises in Hong Kong would require licence issued in advance by AFCD. Any person contravening the requirements of Cap. 586 will be prosecuted and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of HK$ 10,000,000 and to imprisonment for 10 years. The seized specimens would be forfeited to the government.

When detected by the authorities the tortoises were found to be cruelly wrapped in plastic tape. (Photo source: https://bit.ly/3pd3AYY)

Back in Nov 2019, when we received the tortoises, we scanned them with a metal detector and radiographed them as part of their health check. (Photo: Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden)

The tortoises were each placed in cotton bags and carefully packed in a specially designed wooden transport crate. The transport of live animals by air is governed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live Animal Regulations that must be adhered to. (Photo: Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden)

The tortoises that were rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong arrived safely at Tierpark Berlin, Germany, and all started to feed immediately when the staff offered vegetables (Photo: Tierpark Berlin)

The tortoises will be quarantined for 30 days before entering the conservation breeding programme at Tierpark Berlin. (Video: Tierpark Berlin)


-- END --


For media enquiries and interview arrangement, please contact:

Ms Hilary Su
Tel:                      2483 7270
Email:                  media@kfbg.org