Washington, Feb 8 : A new study has indicated that Madagascar's turtles and tortoises are facing the threat of extinction, unless major conservation measure are enacted.
According to the study, conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups, five of the nine assessed species have been downgraded to critically endangered, with one variety - the ploughshare tortoise - now numbering only a few hundred individuals.
The other critically endangered species include the radiated tortoise, flat-tailed tortoise, spider tortoise and Madagascar big-headed turtle, all of which are found nowhere else on earth.
The study determined that illegal trade continues to be the largest single threat for several of critically endangered species.
Ploughshare, spider and flat-tailed tortoises, along with juvenile radiated tortoises, are particularly coveted by collectors and traded as pets on the international black market. Meanwhile, adult radiated tortoises are sold for food in regional markets in Tular and Fort-Dauphin.
"Madagascar's ancient tortoises and turtles are marching toward extinction unless an all-out effort is made to protect these living national treasures," said Dr. James Deutsch, director for the Wildlife Conservation Society's Africa programs.
"The good news is that there's still time to save Madagascar's tortoises and turtles from extinction, and we know how to tackle the issues," he added.
In order to combat these illegal activities, the research groups recommended the creation of a "tortoise brigade" to monitor and control llegal trade.
This plan outlines that confiscated tortoises could be sent back to areas where populations had been decimated by illegal trade, and with subsequent enforcement eco-tourism opportunities could follow.
Moreso, the group has recognized that Madagascar's traditions that once protected tortoises, needed to be revitalized. Therefore, working with local people was identified as an essential component of any future conservation effort.
According to the research groups, more survey work was needed to identify unprotected tortoise populations, as well as increased captive breeding and reintroduction efforts.