Friday 22 November 2019

Zoo welcomes birth of rare turtle

A zoo worker holds a seven-week-old Vietnamese box turtle named Vernon at Bristol Zoo Gardens
A zoo worker holds a seven-week-old Vietnamese box turtle named Vernon at Bristol Zoo Gardens

One of the world's rarest species of turtle has hatched at a British zoo for the first time.

The tiny seven-week-old Vietnamese box turtle is so precious that it is being kept in a climate-controlled room at Bristol Zoo Gardens and is hand-fed chopped worms to give it the best possible start in life.

It is the first time a British zoo has ever bred this critically endangered species and is only the second in Europe, after a zoo in Germany, to have done so. The youngster, which keepers have named Vernon, weighs just 28g and measures around 5cm long - roughly the size of a matchbox.

An adult box turtle weighs around 1kg, measures around 20cm long and can live up to 50 years old. The new arrival lives in a custom-built Asian turtle breeding room in the reptile house alongside 10 adult box turtles and a few other young turtles, under the watchful eye of the zoo's team of reptile experts.

Curator of reptiles Tim Skelton, who has cared for turtles for more than 40 years, said: "This is a very difficult species to breed so I am thrilled with the arrival of this baby after so many years; it is certainly a career highlight."

The birth takes the total number of Vietnamese box turtles at Bristol Zoo to seven. However, there are so few of these turtles in captivity that there is no dedicated zoo breeding programme for them.

The zoo has joined forces with private turtle experts around Europe to form a European breeding programme in an effort to save the species from total extinction.

"Not a lot is known about this species so we can learn an awful lot from this baby to improve our chances of breeding more in future," said Mr Skelton.

"These are secretive animals so we are keeping it in a warm, humid and quiet room with a constant temperature, in a boggy tank to replicate its natural habitat where it can burrow among the soil and leaves."

Box turtles are mainly terrestrial, although they will enter shallow water to hunt and soak. They are hunted for their meat, for use in medicine or as pets and have been listed as 'critically endangered' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

PA Media

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