(KGTV) - Experts from the San Diego Zoo have been sent to Madagascar to help care for nearly 11,000 tortoises discovered in a massive poaching bust.
The April 10 discovery by local police found the tortoises covering virtually every room in the raided home. The animals did not have access to food or water.
Since the discovery, hundreds of the tortoises had died from dehydration and illness.
Authorities believe the 10,976 tortoises discovered were part of illegal pet trading and planned for shipment to Asia. There, tortoises shells are highly prized, officials said.
San Diego Zoo officials will help supply medical supplies, administer care, and general assistance, according to the zoo.
"Unfortunately we have had a number of situations in recent years where our staff has been called upon to assist animals that have been caught up in wildlife trafficking,” Kim Lovich, curator of reptiles at San Diego Zoo, said. "This is an overwhelming situation, where we recognize that every individual we save may make the difference between this species’ long-term survival and its extinction. We have to help."
Crews are working to relocate the surviving tortoises to SOPTOM-Villages des Tortues, a 17-acre private wildlife facility in Ifaty, for further care.
Zoo officials say radiated tortoise populations have declined more than 80 percent in the last 30 years. The species could be extinct in the wild in less than two decades.