The Ploughshare Tortoise Protection Project, Madagascar

Published November 2018

A photo of an adult male ploughshare tortoise in its natural habitat.

Adult male ploughshare tortoise. Credit: L Woolaver

Endemic to Madagascar, the ploughshare tortoise is a victim of its exotic appearance. Its high domed golden shell is much sought after by collectors and rare-animal enthusiasts whose demands drive an illegal trade that has pushed the tortoise to the brink of extinction in the wild.

In spite of the highest level of protection status at national and international levels, the wild population of ploughshare tortoise is now thought to be less than 600 adults – all occurring in the Baly Bay National Park. Poaching is seen as the main threat to species survival, although bush fires are also a threat.

The trade chain for the ploughshare tortoise is a familiar one. Animals are taken from the park opportunistically, or to order, by locals who then pass them on to traffickers who arrange their illegal shipment out of the country. Smugglers also come down from the regional town of Mahajanga and enter the park clandestinely.

Community patrols, recruited from some of Madagascar’s poorest communities, are giving much needed support to national authorities to protect the critically endangered ploughshare tortoise.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Paid in money community scouts
Performance-based payments/incentives for patrolling or guarding
Monetary incentives for community intelligence
Further detail

The Baly Bay project has so far enlisted 165 community rangers, drawn from 11 of the 28 main villages surrounding the bay. Together, they patrol one third of the ploughshare habitat, and spend 1,400 hours per month on duty.

Results from the first three years of this extra presence include five arrests for poaching, and raised community awareness of legal and illegal activity in the ploughshare habitat. The community patrols generate daily reports to the park authorities: 2,888 per year.

The project offers a degree of modest income stability in an area which is among the poorest in Madagascar. Wages for community rangers – paid for by the project – work out at US$2 per patrol, plus meals, with rangers working an average of 15 days per month. Additional payments – up to US$200 – for information leading to successful arrests provide further incentive, and a scheme is being developed to offer rangers rewards linked to wild tortoise numbers in the park.

Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife

Provision of community-level benefits
Further detail

While villagers in the bay area have been identified as the first link in the illegal trade chain, local communities are also the key to better protection. Engaging with these communities, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has built a trusting relationship over 20 years that is the foundation of today’s community participation in protecting the tortoise.

Working with 18,000 people in 52 villages, the DWCT has helped to raise living standards and develop opportunities for income. Durrell has built 47 wells, supplied 1,500 fishing nets, and improved education for 1,500 children by building and rehabilitating 18 schools.

Organisers, donors and partners

For further information contact People Not Poaching coordinator (peoplenotpoaching@gmail.com).