Paris - French customs officials said Monday they had found
170 critically endangered baby tortoises wrapped in sticky tape and hidden in
the secret compartment of a crate transiting Paris' main Charles de Gaulle
The species, known as "radiated tortoises" are
found only in Madagascar and prized by collectors for the unique pattern on
their shell case.
Customs officials said the tortoises were destined for Laos.
Fifteen of the baby reptiles have died since their discovery
in the crate carrying sea cucumbers on December 14 due to the
"particularly unsuitable conditions of transport," customs officials
The survivors have been taken to Tortoise Village in
France's southeastern Var region.
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"We put them in a warm place and cleaned them with
disinfectant," said the centre's director Bernard Devaux. "They
didn't have enough water but they should be rehydrated slowly to avoid a new
He described the baby tortoises as "magnificent but
very fragile, each one has a different shell pattern."
Weighing only 20g (0.7 ounces) and measuring up to four
centimetres (1.5 inches) the tortoises are too small to face a second
international flight and will likely spend a few years in France before being
returned to Madagascar.
The tortoises can live up to 100 years.
"They are considered the most beautiful tortoises on
the planet. You see them sold for $10,000 in New York or Tokyo and pressure is
increasing as rich Chinese get involved," said Devaux.
"They represent too much money. They are beautiful so
they are hunted. Maybe it would be better if they were ugly."
The tortoises are listed as critically endangered by the
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which estimates they
could be extinct within 50 years as a result of habitat loss and the
international wildlife trade.