Thousands of rare tortoises rescued from dealers in Madagascar

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ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Nearly 11,000 endangered tortoises, found dehydrated and hungry in a house in Madagascar, are being coaxed back to health by a team of U.S. veterinarians.

The radiated tortoises - prized by dealers for their beautiful shells - were so dry that some of them had to be soaked in water for weeks, said Susie Bartlett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York’s Bronx Zoo.

Others had to be injected with rehydration fluids and in some cases antibiotics and painkillers, she added.

Police found them in a house on the island last month, arrested three people and called in the experts.

Bartlett and colleagues spent days working in 100 Fahrenheit heat at a care facility in one of the tortoises natural habitats - the spiny forests on the island’s southwestern coast.

“We got poked and scratched by spiny branches when crawling through to access the animals,” said Bartlett.

Some have died but thousands of others are getting better. It is unlikely they will be released back into the wild anytime soon because they could be recaptured by poachers.

They are prized as delicacies in some parts of Asia, and as pets in other areas, Bartlett added.

Writing by Maggie Fick; Edited by Andrew Heavens