The El Paso Zoo will work to help save nearly 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises from Madagascar next week.
According to a news release, Luis Villanueva, a zoo staff member, will travel to Toliara, Madagascar to rescue the tortoises after local police discovered them with no access to food or water.
Hundreds have already died from dehydration and illness, officials say.
The surviving tortoises were transferred to the “Villages des Tortues”, a wildlife facility in Ifaty where conservationists from around the world are traveling to lend a helping hand.
Villanueva will spend two weeks in Madagascar to work with the Turtle Survival Alliance, which launched the rescue mission.
“The radiated tortoise is critically endangered due to poaching and deforestation,” Villanueva said. “These magnificent animals can live up 180 years old and are some of the most beautiful Tortoises in the world, which leads to exploitation in the pet trade.”
Zoo officials say the radiated tortoise population in the wild has declined by more than 80 percent over the last 30 years. They could even become extinct in less than two decades.
Villanueva leaves for Madagascar Saturday.
“I am proud of Luis for offering to represent us and that he gets to go and help with this huge project,” Americas Collection Supervisor Tammy Sundquist said.