On April 10, 2018, local police discovered more than 10,000 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) crammed in a private residence in Madagascar.

The radiated tortoise is an endangered species, found only in Madagascar, that is often sold illegally on the international pet trade.

Without access to food or water, many of the turtles were sick or injured. The Turtle Survival Alliance sprang into action with a call to help save this species. The New England Aquarium’s director of animal health, Charles J. Innis VMD DABVP, is one of many turtle experts who answered the call to help in this massive rescue mission. 
Here is Part III of his blogs documenting his experience. (Don’t miss Part I and Part II!)

It is my sixth day working with the team here. The days are hot and fatiguing. We continue to treat the sicker tortoises, provide food and water for the healthier ones, and prepare tortoises for shipment to the long-term holding center. We now only have around 80 sick tortoises receiving regular veterinary care; we expect to continue to “clear” some tortoises from the hospital to the general population in the coming days. The majority of the sick ones are gaining weight and strength over time. Shawn Brehob (Columbus Zoo) joined the team a few days ago, so we now have seven of us to get the work done.

Charles Innis holding turtle
Dr. Innis treats one of many tortoises needing expert care.

In addition to the veterinary care, we have various other tasks each day. We are fortunate to have at the rescue center a freshwater well with a solar panel and pump that pumps water from the well into an elevated holding tank, which has a small, gravity-fed faucet. But the solar pump does not deliver enough volume to meet our needs so we are bucketing water up from the well using a rope that is about 20 feet long. Then we fill various receptacles to deliver water around the campus to the tortoises. Tortoises are messy, so we also spend much of the end of the day cleaning the various medical tools and containers we have used throughout the day, which is also a chore with no reliable sink or hose.

turtle with green mouth from eating
A radiated tortoise has a green mouth from so much snacking!

During afternoons, we enter the “healthy pens” to make sure that no one is slipping back to being sick. At the same time, we are choosing turtles that seem strong and ready for transport. Over a few days, we cleared about 3,000 individuals for transport. At the time, we did not know when the transport would occur.

turtles on ground in brush
Turtles eat in a brushy holding pen at the rescue facility.

Yesterday morning, we agreed that we were getting a bit rundown; several team members have had to take a day off this week to regain good health. Dr. Ramsay suggested we consider ending early for a little happy hour. But just after lunch (pureed pumpkin with rice and squid), we were informed that the government was sending several vehicles to transport some animals. While there was no happy hour, we were happy for that news. Missing two team members due to illness, the rest of us scrambled to quickly gather 600 tortoises from the enclosures.

Keep Reading! Read Part IV of Charlie’s blogs chronicling his expedition to Madagascar to learn more about transporting rehabilitated turtles and additional efforts by the international team of rescuers to save this endangered species.