The Rarest in Madagascar

The Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora), or Angonoka tortoise, may look like just any tortoise to most people. But if you know a bit about reptiles you would realize this is the number 1 rarest tortoise in the world. It is also one of the top 10 rarest animals on earth – significantly rarer than the giant panda.

This species is always number 1 on my list of wild animals I wish to encounter in Madagascar. Finally, after decades, I have achieved this ultimate goal. I found the Angonoka!

Throughout the past decades, from time to time, I’ve seen a number of juvenile to sub-adult Ploughshare tortoises in captivity, from high-end black market which is the main threat of the species. I’ve also seen a few in sanctuaries I used to work with. It already gave me goosebumps seeing real ones in captivity. I was always hoping to find a wild one since teenage. However, like over 99% of people in the world, I had never got a chance to encounter a wild Ploughshare tortoise and it remained my ultimate herpetological goal.

Before the trip, I desperately wanted to see one. But I knew how impossible it was to find one in the wild. I planned to spend 3 days to go to a remote destination where there’s this only sanctuary that works with this species. However, when we arrived we realized that they wouldn’t allow visits now since some tortoises were stolen a couple weeks ago. Frustrated. My hope went back to nature.

Madagascar is such a huge island. But their natural range is as small as 25 km2 in Baly Bay area in the extreme northwest. That is a remote and not-so-safe location where most drivers would not like to go.

I have talked to over a hundred Malagasy people. None of them, even the staff at the sanctuary, have ever heard of this tortoise. They only know a little about its cousin, the Radiated tortoise.

After over a month of tough trips, I believed that the idea of finding a Ploughshare tortoise was naive. On the last day of the trip, right before I was wrapping up and leaving, I got it! I encountered, not just one but, some Ploughshare tortoises! OMG!

The both rough and smooth texture is unforgettable. The elongated gular scutes (the unique piece of shell under its chin) are so strangely beautiful.

Completely lost it. Tears big time. It was such a complicated, mixed feeling. So happy that I could meet a few of them in real life. It’d be on the bucket list for any reptile lover. Sad at the same time as its current conservation status. I know how near they are to extinction. I was sitting there literally seeing some living specimens that I’m likely to see its extinction within my life.

I really can’t keep up the positive vibe like my other posts. I’m just posting this to express my emotions. It’s not going to help this species. This is an exceptional example that spreading awareness to the public does not help this critically endangered species from going extinct. The future of the species is more on the government’s hand.

I would not disclose any details about the location I found them. Hopefully they can hide themselves well from poachers.