January 31, 2014 / 5:30 PM / 5 years ago

Over 1,000 Madagascar reptiles stranded in South African transit

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Over 1,000 tree frogs, chameleons and lizards from Madagascar are stranded in South Africa after storms in the United States forced their connecting flight there to be canceled, Johannesburg zoo said on Friday.

About 400 of the 1,685 reptiles flown in from the Indian Ocean island nation on Wednesday have already died from the stress of air travel and shock of being removed from their natural habitat, a zoo official said.

The surviving reptiles have found a temporary home in the Johannesburg zoo, where they will be quarantined for 30 days.

“They are not fit for travel, they cannot leave, there is nowhere to go at the moment,” the zoo’s chief veterinarian Katja Koeppel said as another staff member took a dozen buckets of live crickets from her office to feed the newcomers to the zoo.

“So they gave them to us,” she said. “My problem is trying to keep them alive.”

The zoo has yet to identify all the species received but Koeppel said it had already established that some are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

This will put the issue high in the radar screen of conservationists.

At the end of the month-long quarantine period, the reptiles’ shipper will have to decide whether to pay their boarding fees, which could rise to 50,000 rand ($4,500), or donate them to the zoo, Koeppel said. ($1 = 11.1490 South African rand)

Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Tom Heneghan

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