Ask Andrew Ahl what his favorite animal is, and the response comes quickly — tortoises! So having the opportunity to travel to Madagascar this spring to help thousands of radiated tortoises was like a dream come true, even if the circumstances were not.
“Tortoises hold a special place in my heart, and to be able to help in such a large way for the conservation of these tortoises was the greatest experience I have had in my life,” he said.
Andrew was part of a global effort coordinated by the Turtle Survival Alliance to rehabilitate nearly 11,000 tortoises that had been rescued from poachers.
On a typical day in Madagascar, Andrew provided basic care for anywhere from 300 to 1,000 tortoises. Checking each tortoise individually and providing them all food and water was a big undertaking, one made even more challenging by the hot, dry conditions of the landscape.
As the tortoises were rescued from terrible conditions, many of them required emergency veterinary care, and Andrew assisted in those efforts as well, holding tortoises while vets administered treatment.
A Deserts Keeper since February 2015, Andrew said the work he did during his 14-day experience in Madagascar was comparable to what he does at the Indianapolis Zoo on a daily basis, just on a much larger scale.
“In the Deserts Dome, I know the tortoises. I know them on a personal level,” Andrew explained. “Arriving in Madagascar to help care for thousands of tortoises, it was overwhelming at times.”
The end goal for the rescuers is to rerelease the tortoises back into the wild, but that’s still off in the distant future and something Andrew wishes he could have experienced but didn’t. Yet, with an estimated 500,000 radiated tortoises taken by poachers each year, the species is at significant risk of going extinct within the next two decades, which made Andrew’s work even more important.
“I wish I could be there to help more,” he said. “I wish I didn’t have to go, in all honesty. I wish it never was a problem but I’m glad I was able to help.”
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