29 June 2005

Tortoise thieves running amok on Zanzibar

Thieves are taking advantage of lax security and the docile nature of giant Aldabra tortoises to purloin growing numbers of the protected reptiles from Zanzibar's Changu Island, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Despite efforts to stop the thefts, nearly half the estimated 200 Aldabra tortoises that troll the sun-drenched tourist stop have been picked or hoisted up and stolen over the past eight years, he said.

At least 80 of the slow-moving, placid herbivores, second in size only to the mammoth Galapagos tortoise, have been stolen between 1998 and 2004 and only eight have yet been returned, Zanzibar tourism minister Mussa Ame Silima said.

"We are working hard to prevent theft of tortoises, one of the best tourist attractions in Zanzibar on Changu Island," he told lawmakers, pledging to curb the rampant theft of the animals.

Silima said eight stolen tortoises had been recovered and returned but another 21 seized by authorities on the Tanzanian mainland had yet to be brought back due to an ongoing legal battle with the alleged owners.

His comments came in response to a question from MP Ramadhan Pandu who represents the Zanzibar South constituency in the semi-autonomous Tanzanian island's parliament and demanded to know how if the government took tortoise theft seriously.

"We want the government to be serious in protecting our tourist attractions, like those in Changu Island," he said, lamenting the decline in numbers of the tortoises which tourists often attempt to ride during beach excursions.

Silima said his office was working with private sector tourism industry to step up enforcement of laws intended to protect the tortoises from nefarious animal collectors and vowed greater patrols.

The tortoises, which can often grow to weigh more than 225kg, are a main attraction on Changu, also known as Prison Island, just off Zanzibar, that used to house slaves pending their transport to other markets.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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