NEW YORK, May 2 (UPI) -- A U.S. conservation group is urging the government of Madagascar to take action to combat the smuggling of two of the island's endangered tortoise species.
The Wildlife Conservation Society said illegal trafficking of endangered species has reached epidemic proportions with more than 1,000 individual tortoises seized from would-be smugglers since the beginning of the year.
A coalition of conservation groups including the WCS, Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund have urged authorities to clamp down on wildlife smuggling before some species are collected out of existence.
Since the beginning of Madagascar's ongoing political crisis in 2009, smuggling of the two endangered species -- radiated and plowshare tortoises -- has increased by at least ten-fold because of weak governance and rule-of-law, a WCS release said Thursday.
"These tortoises are truly one of Madagascar's most iconic species," James Deutsch, WCS Executive Director for Africa Programs, said. "This level of exploitation is unsustainable. Unless immediate action is taken to better protect the wild populations, their extinction is imminent."