An empty house in a small Madagascar town caused a major commotion for the surrounding neighborhood. Actually, it wasn’t really just the house itself, but what was coming out of it that was causing problems for everyone. A brutal smell was bothering everyone around. Mostly, the neighbors ignored it for a while and figured it would clear up eventually, but eventually enough was enough.
Finally, the smell got so bad, a group of people decided they had to call in officials to see if they could figure out what was going on. When Madagascar authorities arrived to investigate, they were in for an unreal surprise.
When investigators first arrived, they obviously noticed the unappealing stench but it was so powerful throughout the area that they couldn’t even figure out where it was coming from. Meanwhile, they talked to the neighbors in the area and found out that the smell had been around for weeks, just growing stronger and stronger.
After searching for hours after the investigators left, neighbors finally realized the odor was coming from a house that everyone knew was empty, and when they were finally ready to get inside, nobody could ever have guessed what they would discover.
At this point, the neighbors, having already called officials weren’t sure what to do. They could try to break into the abandoned home, but they knew that wasn’t the best path forward in case something was going on there, and clearly noting that it could be illegal. On top of that, aside from the legal issues, nobody really wanted to go bust into a house where such an insane smell was emanating from. So they determined they would bring the officials back, but before they called the police again, something even more unexpected happened that stopped them in their tracks.
Suddenly, in a crazy twist, the house that had been abandoned for weeks started to show movement. People starting coming and going that nobody had seen before. On top of that, the smell was so unbelievable the neighbors were wondering why anyone would even willingly go into that house in the first place!
Nevertheless, once people showed up, the neighborhood was able to ease up a little and finally get some relief….because unbelievably the smell actually started to subside and things got relatively back to normal.
So, people pretty much got back to their daily lives and went about their business like nothing had gone on. Little did they know, they were in for a much longer ride.
Everyone was ready to move on and close the book on this issue when the horrible stench came back with a vengeance. It was worse than ever. At this point, it was obvious the neighbors were going to have to do something about the awful stench coming from this home, whether people were coming and going or not.
The next move was finally decided upon. The people in the neighborhood would just have to call the police and get them involved. Police officers came to the neighborhood again and were now determined to solve the issue of the stench house.
Once they were called again, the police came out in full force. They had no idea what they were about to walk into and they brought all kinds of experts with them. They had the regular police investigator team to handle the investigation, but they also had medical examiners and even wildlife experts as they really had no idea what they were going to find.
After speaking to the neighbors again, it was time to venture into the house to see what they could find.
Yes, you read right. A committee of wildlife experts were called upon and brought to the scene of the smell along with the police. The regional head of Madagascar’s environmental agency, Soary Randrianjafizanaka was one of these wildlife committee members who volunteered to help figure out what was going on, in the event wildlife was somehow involved. Apparently, the department is often called upon for investigations of unusual or strong smells.
So, Soary ventured out with detectives hoping to be of some service, but having no idea what she was walking into.
The Environmental Agency in Madagascar has definitely had its run ins with animal related issues over time as it has served in strange animal cases in the past. You can imagine that wildlife in Africa can get crazy, so these people have seen their fair share of insanity. So even though the police department really had no idea what they were getting into, they tend to bring in environmental guidance.
When they finally got to the house, it was time to venture into the craziness inside.
When they came to the house in Toliara, it really just looked like a regular house. It wasn’t in bad shape or falling apart like you might expect from a house that smelled like the angel of death lived inside. It was all becoming more and more confusing as they arrived. The smell, however, was still overwhelming. “You cannot imagine. It was so awful,” Randrianjafizanaka said about the smell, and described it as “rancid.”
Randrianjafizanaka, the environmental expert who had been in all kinds of wildlife and environmental situations had never experienced anything like it, and after she saw what was inside she knew she never would again.
The officials, investigators and agents who came into the house described that the smell was overpowering to the point where some people felt like they were going to pass out. Nevertheless, they had no choice but to wade through the unruly scent so they could find what they were looking for.
Some thought the smell could have been human feces or even decomposition somewhere in the home. Randrianjafizanaka suggested it was possible the smell could have been animal waste but couldn’t be sure until they found it specifically.
Despite the trouble everyone was having breathing in the smell without getting lightheaded, they had to keep pushing through.
As they moved along, Randrianjafizanaka became more and more confident the smell originated from an animal nature. She knew what happened to animals trapped indoors for long periods of time when they were left uncared for, and this was pretty much right out of the standard book on that. They had to keep moving though to find the animals, and also make sure there weren’t humans somewhere in the house.
The conditions in the house were unbearable and the idea that there could be humans living inside was almost unheard of. Finally, they began hearing some noises and they were about to learn what they came for.
Investigators heard light scraping and scratching from parts of the house and everyone stopped in awe. They knew something was in the house with them, something living, but nobody was quite sure what they were about to find.
They kept moving toward the noise and found that, indeed, there WERE people in the house! It was unbelievable to both sets of people that they encountered each other and they were in shock.
Police and officials needed to keep moving though to know what these people were doing here and what was causing the stench.
Weirder still was that the people in the house were found holding shovels and nobody had any idea what was going on. It appeared the people in the smelly house were digging holes when they were found.
Police found themselves in a situation where they were called to investigate a horrific smell, and encountered random people holding shovels and digging holes as fast as they could.
Officials were left to wonder what on earth was going on.
As they began speaking to the hole-diggers, officials began to notice odd behavior. These people were obviously giving themselves away as suspicious parties. It became clearer that these people were trying to hide something. They became increasingly agitated as the police moved closer and closer.
Something was definitely off here, but nobody realized just how crazy things were about to get.
As far as the investigators and officials were concerned, these people had given themselves up enough to know that they should follow their regular protocols. It was obvious these hole-diggers had already decided to cooperate with police and weren’t running.
Police began arresting the suspects they found outside and now it was time they had to go back inside to brave the gut-wrenching stench and find out what they could about this unbelievably strange situation.
Now that they knew the human factor was out of the way, the investigators could focus on the actual home. The first thing they noticed was that the inside of the house was in complete disrepair. Rooms appeared to be totally unlivable and trashed to their core. It was like a demolition crew had come through and taken care of everything in the house.
There were cobwebs and really no signs of life anywhere around the house. They didn’t know what to make of it until they looked down and realized something was covering the floors. They could not believe their eyes.
The floors of the house were covered in hundreds of tortoises. Tortoises were absolutely everywhere. In parts of the house, there were so many that it just looked like they were part of the flooring.
Immediately, officials began to wonder what they were dealing with. Why on earth were there hoardes of tortoises everywhere here? Why would anyone go to this trouble, and how were they living with it?
Soary Randrianjafizanaka had a thought as she looked closer that there was something unique about these particular tortoises. It was clear these tortoises were not being treated well and needed all the help they could get.
Right away, Randrianjafizanaka decided to take it upon herself to move all the tortoises out of the house. She needed to move them to somewhere safe, somewhere they could survive and thrive. There was tortoises everywhere and it was clear that a lot of them were near death. On top of all that, she even realized these weren’t regular ordinary tortoises. These tortoises were a very rare species and it was shocking to find so many of them all here in one place!
Something had to be done to help them right away.
Randrianjafizanaka knew that they had made an unbelievable discovery. She knew these were the unique and rare radiated tortoises, and only a very small number can even be found in all of Madagascar. These tortoises are so rarely found in the first place that finding them packed together in one place was shocking in and of itself.
The rare nature of these animals though also meant that they found something very valuable.
Since these turtles were so unusual, Randrianjafizanaka realized they found a den devoted to tortoise poaching. Poaching was a criminal activity that fetched a lot of money for the criminals who participated in it. People loved collecting these rare tortoises to keep as pets and other reasons, despite that having them was totally illegal.
There are a lot of examples of poaching all around the world with all kinds of animals. These rare tortoises are no different. In fact, poachers have been after the radiated tortoises so much that they are almost extinct.
Once upon a time, the radiated tortoise actually was growing in its population. They were doing well in the world. But over the course of about a 30 year period their numbers fells from over 10 million to under 3 million in the world. Over 7 million of these tortoises had been lost in such a short amount of time due to poaching and people looking for more and more money.
When all was said and done, the house they had searched held close to 10,000 tortoises covering the house with feces and urine for months!
It took hours to rid the house of the thousands of tortoises, but finally the officials and wildlife experts were able to get them to a safe and secure place, and the Turtle Survival Alliance took over the rescue process. So many of the tortoises were near death from having been treated poorly and not given the opportunity to live their lives right. Randrianjafizanaka and her teams had to be careful to make sure the weak tortoises were kept alive through transport but they were happy with their results in being able to save so many.
They were even hopeful that they could try to use this hoard of tortoises to help their endangered numbers rise up a bit so they got to work nursing the tortoises back to health, but they were unfortunately less lucky than they realized.
Despite working tirelessly to try to help these 10,000 tortoises, the team discovered that working with so many at once would be a major problem. On top of that, so many of them were so severely ill that they realized many of them would never make it back to health and would unfortunately perish. The truth was, most of these tortoises probably had about a week left to live.
The tortoises had been severely dehydrated and underfed and despite all the effort that went into saving them, and working 24 hour days to keep them alive, many ended up dying.
Eventually the neighbors were told what had happened and they couldn’t believe it.
The neighbors were shocked that the smell that had disturbed their days, weeks and months was due to thousands upon thousands of turtles holed up in the house. On top of that, a house just down the street was a hub for criminal activity. They realized that if they hadn’t ever called about the smell, the poaching would probably still be going on today!
Thankfully, the police did come and the story caused enough of an uproar to go viral, which led to tons of awareness around the issues of poaching and animal cruelty around the world.
In the end, only around 180 of the tortoises sadly died, but that meant that approximately 9,775 were able to be nursed back to the health despite the horrible conditions they were living in for so long. Once things seemed to get back to normal, the discussion became what to do with them. These tortoises were jammed into a house for months, treated horribly, nearly killed but have pulled through. Could they be released back into their regular natural habitat? Would they be able to survive in the wild again after the insane experience they went through?
The environment and wildlife team really wanted to try to release them back into the wild, but they knew if they did, these particular tortoises were going to be at major risk of death. On top of that, there was no reason they wouldn’t be poached again if they were set free. On the other hand though, there was a real concern that no facility would be able to handle such a quantity of tortoises all at the same time.
In the end, the team found a place full of experts that could care for them well and keep the safe and happy.
Now the tortoises live in a small ecosystem that is monitored by animal experts with 9,000 of their closest friends. The experts do a great job making sure they get the lives they need and that they never had when they were stuck in the house. They are fed and watered as needed and the team is dedicated to getting the radiated tortoise population numbers back up.
So what happened to the poachers after they were caught?
Tortoise poaching around the world is a major issue, with major cases happening in the United States and other countries. These criminals are poaching and also abusing the animals they are trying to make money off of. Judges deal harsh crimes for these kinds of things, and these poachers were forced to pay nearly $30,000 worth of fines after being detained for this tortoise fiasco.