Happy World Turtle day! 2015

It's World Turtle Day (broad sense of the word turtle, no nit-picking), so this year thought I'd show the progress of a small radiated tortoise (art)study I'm doing. As my Turtle Day drawing last year, 'tis far from finished...

Radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) are medium-sized chelonians from the evolutionary laboratory that is Madagascar. They weigh around 15 kg and their shell can be 40 cm long. As the above is not finished – and because it won't do these beautiful animals justice when it is –, here's what radiated tortoises actually look like:

Surely one of the most stunning shell in the carapaced world! © Pete Oxford
Feisty little guy. © Ariadne Van Zandbergen
However, like so many other beautiful results of Madagascar's long isolation, radiated tortoises are critically endangered. Largely confined to the southwest of the island, the species has been eradicated from at least 40% of its former range, having fallen victim to habitat destruction and poaching. Their beautiful carapace has also made them a target for the pet trade. According to the IUCN, if the radiated tortoise's current population trend continues, the species could become extinct within 50 years. There are conservation efforts currently aim to better understand this species and to help local people understand their situation. It will be up to Malagasy people to save this species from extinction but, in one of the poorest countries in the world, that may be even harder to achieve than in other places. Sorry if I've made World Turtle day sad...

Radiated tortoise in Nahampoana Reserve, SE Madagascar. © Xaali O'Reilly Berkeley


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