Endangered tortoises saved from smugglers have gone on display at Chester Zoo.
Ploughshare tortoises have been driven to extinction as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for reptile smugglers.
They are highly prized for their distinctive gold and black shells and fetch exceptionally high prices on the international black market.
The group of four have been in the zoo’s care since 2012 after being confiscated by customs officials in Hong Kong in 2009.
Chester Zoo curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates Dr Gerardo Garcia said the ‘iconic’ species was under huge pressure to survive.
He said: “There’s a very real possibility the species could be lost forever due to illegal trafficking for the exotic pet trade.
“The United Nations estimates the illegal trade is worth billions of pounds each year and, despite efforts to crack down on it, it continues to grow.
“These tortoises are seen as the jewel in the crown of the reptile world.
“It’s very possible that, within the next two years, there will be none left in the wild because of this trade.”
It is estimated there are only about 500 ploughshare tortoises left in their native Madagascar.
The illegal wildlife trade is worth $19 billion every year.
Chester Zoo’s quarter will form part of the European Breeding Programme for the species.
Dr Garcia added: “Conservation has never been more critical.
“We can’t sit back and watch this important species simply disappear and our long-term ambition is to maintain a safety net population at the zoo.”
Alongside the wildlife crime agency TRAFFIC and other top international zoos, Chester Zoo is fronting a global campaign which is fighting illegal animal trafficking.
For more visit the Act for Wildlife website here.
What do you think of this story? Let us know in the comments below.