Carving into a ploughshare tortoise’s shell may look like an act of vandalism and animal cruelty, but for some conservationists, it’s one of the best actions they know to protect the highly endangered species, reports NPR.
With only a few hundred left alive, ploughshare tortoises are on the brink of extinction. Rather than getting a reprieve from poachers, however, their rarity makes them a prime target. Some private collectors capture them alive for the thrill and status of owning a unique pet. Others kill them for their stunning golden shells. Either way, these tortoises go for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.
In order to make ploughshares less attractive to poachers, animal conservationists have begun carving a series of letters and numbers into the tortoise shells. While the engravings do not appear to hurt the tortoises, even if it did, the conservationists believe that some minimal harm is worth protecting their lives.
The theory is that affluent individuals will have no interest in decorating with shells that have been covered in graffiti. Additionally, would-be pet owners will hopefully consider a defaced tortoise less special and leave it alone.
Engraving isn’t the only action conservationists are taking, though. They’re also establishing sanctuaries in the hope of successfully breeding the ploughshares and increasing their population.
In addition to carving captive tortoises, activists have increased their efforts to chisel on ploughshares in the wild since that is where they are most vulnerable. While a tortoise’s shell can help protect it from some predators, it is far too slow to evade human capture.
“On one hand, tortoises have lived for over 250 million years. They’ve outlived the dinosaurs and they precede the dinosaurs,” Eric Goode, the founder of the Turtle Conservancy, told NPR. “On the other hand, man is able to exterminate them very, very quickly.”
Although making endangered animals less beautiful is certainly unconventional, it’s not entirely unheard of either. Conservationists in Africa have resorted to dehorning rhinoceroses in the wild for similar reasons. Since rhinos are hunted specifically for their valuable horns, the idea is that poachers will no longer have a reason to kill them.
It’s a pity that conservationists have been put in a difficult situation of having to damage endangered animals’ bodies in an effort to save them. Hopefully we can one day ensure the ploughshares safety without having to carve on them. Until poaching is eradicated, however, it might regrettably be the best course of action.
Though contending with poachers is no easy task, you can do your small part by calling on governments to step up their efforts to stop tortoise smuggling. This petition demands that politicians in Madagascar – where many of the ploughshare tortoises reside – take more responsibility for protecting the endangered creatures.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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