We have big news from the All-Star Tortoise repatriation campaign: they’re home! And so far it’s been a rousing success: Moose, Shelly, Surya, and about 50 of their friends made the jaunt just days ago (see photo below), and they’ve really taken to their temporary digs near the forest. After all, they’re home; this is the climate they love, the vegetation they know — and it’s got them in very high spirits. It’s an especially touching sight given what these poor tortoises have been through.
Their ordeal began years ago when they were kidnapped in the wilds of their native India by smugglers. From there, the tortoises were stuffed into gunny sacks and suitcases for the 2,000-mile trip across the border. Sadly, many of them fared poorly, suffering cracked shells, exposure to infectious diseases, and unimaginably high stress levels. Those who did survive faced a bleak future. Because of their beautiful shell patterns and gentle dispositions, India star tortoises are highly sought after by exotic pet owners — most of whom lack the knowledge and/or resources to properly care for them. And yet, horrifically, the pet-trade tortoises would have been the “lucky” ones. The others would likely have ended up being processed as ingredients in “exotic” food or “folk medicines.”
But — thankfully — these tortoises caught a life-saving break when Singapore authorities intercepted the kidnappers. And not long afterward, Wildlife SOS began collaborating with the Karnataka Forest Department and the Singapore non-profit ACRES to bring about a safe homecoming to India. Together with ACRES and the governmental authorities, we left no stone unturned. There were inspections and quarantines, then more inspections, then the paperwork, then the waiting. Then, finally, the green light! We were ready to escort them home.
Veterinarian experts from ACRES and Wildlife SOS jumped into action, making specialized safe travel quarters for the tortoises. Meanwhile, back in India, a Wildlife SOS crew was busy constructing temporary, natural facilities for the tortoises to re-acclimate to their native land. We knew that a healthy environment far from the greedy hands of poachers was just what these tortoises would need while getting ready to live free and wild again in the forest. And, as we mentioned above, they’re taking to their new digs just fine!
This repatriation mission is important for a number of reasons. First, it’s allowed a whole population of once-doomed tortoises to come home and prosper in the freedom and safety of a national forest. Second, it’s a great example of authorities and organizations working across borders to show a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal wildlife smuggling.
Again, we’re so grateful to have been awarded responsibility for taking care of these gentle beings, who’ve suffered so much. We’re grateful too for the unwavering support of ACRES, the Forest Department, and the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in Singapore. And, of course, our deepest thanks go to all of you who chipped in and supported these tortoises.
It’s a great day for these All-Star tortoises!
PS: We will be caring for these tortoises for the next three months while they re-acclimate before being released into the wilds. If you’d like to jump in and help us out with this, please consider making a donation here.