The ploughshare tortoise is one of the rarest animals on the planet, and environmentalists have had to resort to defacing their shells to protect them.
CNN reports that poachers sell the turtles to collectors on the black market for up to $50,000, as they make “valuable” pets for wealthy individuals, especially those in Asia.
Eric Goode, founder and president of the Turtle Conservancy, said:
“Like coin collectors who want a mint coin, collectors want a perfect tortoise, so by defacing the animals we make them less appealing to buyers.”
Goode says that the fledglings go for around $2,500 while adults can end up costing as much as $50,000.
Their cost has a direct correlation with the fact that it takes a ploughshare tortoise 20 years to finally reach breeding age and females produce a low quantity of eggs. The fact that adult males are scooped up by poachers on a daily basis does not help the endangered species’ already low numbers, which Goode estimates to be anywhere from 200-500 left in the wild.
Goode understands that permanently marking an animal is a controversial issue, but he says it is in the best interest of the tortoises. He explain that it is like cutting off the horn of a rhino, which is not an ideal solution, but one that keeps buyers away.
Environmentalists are carving the letters MG and a serial number onto adult ploughshares’ shells, while they are tattooing the fledglings since they do not have thick enough keratin in their shells to withstand the procedure.
Goode says the procedure is non-invasive and has worked in places like Burma. He explained:
“The Burmese star tortoise was effectively extinct. All remaining tortoises were tattooed with a religious symbol, sacred to the Burmese people, which reduced the numbers poached.”
The ploughshares are known for their high arching shells and beautiful spectral colors that range from light brown to golden, but because of poaching they could very well be known today for their SKUs.