Record turtle seizure in Burkina Faso

11 Jun 2021

On Tuesday, June 8, 555 juvenile African spurred tortoises were rescued from international trafficking by customs officers in Koudougou, Boulkiemdé province. They were hidden in the baggage compartment of a bus travelling between Bamako in Mali and Lomé in Togo. They were placed in wooden crates, cardboard boxes and canvas and plastic bags. False CITES permits accompanied the shipment. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The African spurred tortoises are listed in Appendix II. Their international trade is still allowed. Export permits are required. The seizure is the result of cooperation between Mali Customs and Burkina Faso Customs.

Mali and Burkina Faso are the theatre of armed operations. This is a never-ending tragedy. The savannah and the desert are scattered with wrecks and marked by the scars of war. It is likely that adult African spurred tortoises are blown up by landmines like elephants. In this hostile landscape, African spurred tortoises, the biggest tortoises after those of the Galapagos and Seychelles, protect themselves from the world’s bursts and great heat in 10-15m long underground dens from which they slink in the early morning or at the end of the day to feed on ephemeral grasses during the rainy season. Males and females do not share their burrows. A “baby” weighs 50 g and an adult up to 100 kg.

There is a high intensity international traffic of African spurred tortoises. “On the Trail”, Robin des Bois’ specialised magazine, has identified seizures of Centrochelys sulcata in the United States of America, Mexico, San Salvador, Malaysia, Thailand, China, India, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Buyers who love live furniture in their gardens and their pool decks often kick themselves for having acquired such a bulky creature of which, at the time of purchase in a reptile show, pet shop or via an internet wildlife website, nothing suggested that it would grow in a way that would be incompatible with its captive habitat. In the United States, the NGO American Tortoise Rescue is sorry to see this successor to the iguana fad and is trying to discourage it. “A fully-grown sulcata is strong and aggressive and can easily move furniture and damage or destroy a typical house or apartment wall. When they start to dig up the property, it looks something like a mine field.” Not to mention that with its natural digging capacities, the African spurred tortoise can go into the house next door and create serious AND (Abnormal Neighbourhood Disturbances).

The 555 juveniles seized by Burkinabe customs have an overall commercial value of €83,000 (€150 per specimen). When females and males reach 20 cm in length in a clandestine breeding farm as exists in Togo, the commercial value on the black market is €500 to €600 per specimen.

Thanks to Burkina Faso and Mali Customs who, despite very poor working conditions, have struck a heavy blow to wildlife trafficking and deprived who knows which gang of a substantial income. After khaki ivory (selling poached ivory to buy weapons), has the time come now for khaki tortoises?


June 8, 2021, part of the seizure © Burkina Faso Customs

An adult African spurred tortoise. The length of the shells reaches 80 cm. © Tomas Diagne

“Babies”. © Tomas Diagne

One couple is devoting itself to save future generations. Persecuted by civil disorders, poaching, slash-and-burn agriculture and the development of nomadic agriculture, the pan-Sahelian species is on the verge of extinction. The eggs are appreciated by monitor lizards and mongooses. © Tomas Diagne

An adult African spurred tortoise has just come out of its den. © B. Corneli






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