Radiated tortoises hatch at Chester Zoo
Two critically endangered tortoises have hatched at Chester Zoo.
Usually found in the dry forests of southern and south-western Madagascar, the golf ball sized hatchlings are the first of their kind to be bred at the zoo for seven years.
Conservationists at the zoo have been working to hatch the pair after experiencing first-hand the ongoing devastation to their forest home.
The eggs were laid in October by 50-year-old mum Smoothsides, the zoo’s duo emerged following an incubation of 100 days – their genders are not yet known.
Both youngsters are being cared for in a climate-controlled breeding facility.
Ben Baker, the zoo’s team manager of Herpetology, said: “Hatching is hard work for a baby tortoise and it can sometimes take hours for them to battle their way out of their hard eggshell.
“They use a special egg tooth to cut the shell open from inside – it’s a bit like an in-built tin opener.
“Happily two radiated tortoises have hatched successfully and we’re ever so pleased as this is a seriously threatened species.
“Radiated tortoises are critically endangered and are faced with a very real threat of extinction in Madagascar.
“They naturally have very slow rates of growth and reproduction, which means they have little or no hope of recovering unaided from the many threats that have been forced on them by humans – deforestation, hunting, poaching and predation of eggs from introduced species.
“This is a species that was once seen everywhere in Southern Madagascar.
“However, an estimated 18 million radiated tortoises have been lost in the last 30 years – a staggeringly high number.
“Perhaps though this should come as no surprise given that they were once used in great numbers as hardcore under road surfaces. Millions of tortoises can soon be lost when they’re being tossed into huge holes.
“That’s how little appreciated they were.
“It’s vitally important that we promote the conservation of species in Madagascar by engaging local people, as well as ensuring that there are protected areas of forest where they can be safe.
“That’s exactly what a team of 13 from the zoo has recently been out in Madagascar doing – educating local people about the importance of their local wildlife, fighting to protect the little remaining forest that is left and carrying out vital research to aid the conservation of numerous, fantastic species.”
Chester Zoo has been caring for the species since 2003 in the hope of creating a genetically viable population as part of a co-ordinated European breeding programme..
It is estimated that 18 million radiated tortoises have already been lost from Madagascar in the last 30 years.