Saturday, August 4, 2012

Zoo News Digest 1st - 4th August 2012 (Zoo News 826)

Zoo News Digest 1st - 4th August 2012 (Zoo News 826)

Dear Colleagues,

I wondered how long it would be before we actually got a mention in the press about the white lions in Toronto Zoo. 'New' the press article says and I suppose they are in relative terms but you and I know they have been there for quite a while. Okay I forgive the new but "Rare".....rubbish.....not so and this deliberately produced colour is not something that any serious zoo should be keeping.

White Lion Breeding Is Not Conservation

The Daily Mail need a bit of education publishing ridiculous stories like 'Chimpanzee 'asks' zoo visitors to free him from enclosure'. Did they bother to contact the zoo? Speak to the staff? I very much doubt it. Their interpretation is a fabrication...a lie, a fairy tale....and yet they print it as if it were fact. Already the loonies are following the story and spreading the lies around the world.

International Vulture Awareness Day is just a month away. What is your zoo doing to promote Vulture Awareness? Vultures are in trouble wherever they occur, they need our help. It is up to your zoo to get the message out. If your zoo has vultures then they MUST do something other wise they are taking and not giving back. Back in the 1970's when I worked in Al Ain Zoo there was never a day that there was not at least a hundred Egyptian Vultures on site plust three or four Lappet faced. Where are they now? My last two visits I have seen not a single one. The vultures are in trouble.

So Mysore Zoo is looking for more vets to help them with their problems. This appears to be the classic 'Indian'....and yes it is from India that I see this solution mentioned far too often, answer to problems within the zoos. It is not the answer however. ZooKeepers are the Zoo Keepers

A wonderful weekend so far.

Hello Giza Zoo....any news on the new Orangutan house yet? What of the evacuated chimps? The zoo world watches as you drag your feet. So very sad. Just how long will it take?

Still not a whisper about the baby Orangutan and Gibbon from Abu Dhabi (see past Digests). As the recognised world organisations that the collection belonged to knew that they had these you would think they would be just a little concerned as to where they went. It doesn't smell right to me.

I remain committed to the work of GOOD zoos, not DYSFUNCTIONAL zoos.


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Seahorses ‘are facing oblivion in 10 years’ after stocks are savaged by Chinese medicine industry
Seahorses could be wiped out within ten years, say conservationists.
Stocks are being savaged by the Chinese medicine industry which reveres them as a catch-all cure for everything from impotence to kidney problems and baldness.
Undercover filming found at least 150 million of the fragile creatures are now killed to make its products every year in China - seven times the official figure.
Campaigners say demand there is soaring every year, and claim some seahorse products have been found in the expanding network of medicine shops abroad, even in Britain where they it is illegal to sell them.
Marine biologist Kealan Doyle posed as a potential supplier to gain access to wholesalers, clinics and health stores in southern China. 
He found one market in the city of Guangzhou sells 20million seahorses a year alone.
CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species - say that is the size of the whole trade worldwide.
Mr Doyle said: ‘It’s a huge underestimate. I visited stores which had something like 30,000 dried seahorses in bags piled from floor to ceiling and there are 6,000 such stores in Hong Kong alone.
‘We are not talking about a slow decline here, this is an absolute decimation of this unique creature which has been with us for millions of years. At this rate, it will be wiped out in between 10 and 20 years.’
Seahorses have long fascinated humans. A fish with a horse’s head, a monkey’s tail and the colour-changing abilities of a lizard, they mate for life, and perform a mating dance together every single morning, at the end of which the female places her eggs in the male’s abdominal pouch.
The male which then becomes pregnant and gives birth, the only creature in the world to do so, having up to 4,000 young in one go, although only a handful will survive into adulthood.
In the piles of dried bodies at the market, many of them were stained red, the sign of a pregnant male ready to give birth to thousands of offspring.
Around 70 countries are now catching and selling seahorses to the Chinese medicine market, where they have been used in healing for thousands of years, but demand has rocketed in the past five years.
Mr Doyle said: ‘Many, many more people can now afford seahorses who couldn’t before, and what’s really worrying is that they are now commonly being ground up and made into pills.
That means the little, young seahorses which would previously have been left behind are being caught as well, and that’s the next generation gone, which is a conservation disaster.’
He found parents giving seahorse pills to their children in the mistaken belief they spur growth, and says they are increasingly taken by middle-class Chinese women as a Botox substitute – due to the animals’ high levels of collagen.
Many seahorses are supplied by subsistence fisherman from poor Asian countries who receive just a few pence for a sack, while the middlemen who expor


WildAid cut Save Our Seahorses, The Seahorse Trust

Interview with Kayce Cover And Shawna Karrasch on 7-24-2012 PodCast Interview
Shawna Karrasch is a delight to talk to and learn from. We share a background in training marine mammals. We also both work extensively with horses. We had a blast talking together about training a few nights back and invite you to join us by clicking on the download button below to listen to the podcast.
We talked about using food, overusing food, the unique Commerson’s dolphin, how dogs compare to sea lions, how marine mammals compare to horses – and more! Friends, we talked! Then we talked some more. Come hang out with us!
At the end of our talk, Shawna gave an interview to some news shows. Look below the podcast link for a link to Shawna’s interview. You will also get to see some interesting video of a trainer having a challenging encounter with a killer whale, Kasatka. He stays calm and is able to bring Kasatka around.
Although anyone working with animals is always at risk, overall, working with killer whales is probably no more dangerous than driving cars. Interesting that no matter how many people die in car accidents, no one suggests we quit driving. Let someone die working with a killer whale, and …. it’s a mess. Anyway, when we choose to work with animals, we choose that risk, and I would hate for someone to keep me from working with animals

Zoo-raised turtles released to protected ponds
More than 90 young western pond turtles have been released to protected ponds in Washington's Pierce and Mason counties and in the Columbia River Gorge.
The turtles released Friday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Woodland Park Zoo were collected from the wild as eggs and raised by the zoo. The zoo says the 10-month-old turtles are now a sturdy 2 ounces each and too big to fit easily into the mouths of bullfrogs.
The zoo says Washington state listed western pond turtles as an endangered species in 1993.
The collaborative effort to boost their numbers also involves the Oregon Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Scientists tracking the turtles via tiny radio transmitters

Birds' heads torn off in Australian zoo rampage
Nine birds, including an endangered swift parrot, had their heads smashed in or ripped off and more than 60 animals were missing on Saturday after vandals went on the rampage at an Australian zoo.
Tasmania Zoo owner Dick Warren said he found the mutilated animals when he opened up on Friday morning, finding "door, after door, after door open and all the locks had been cut, with birds missing and birds dead".
"Either they have just caught them and banged their heads or pulled their heads off, it's a pretty sick thing to see," Warren told ABC Television.
"It's heartbreaking to see them. How could people do this sort of thing? It hits you so hard."
Police said "a number of animals escaped their enclosures, with most being recaptured", adding that two chainsaws were also stolen from the zoo complex.
Two rare swift parrots, a yellow-tailed black cockatoo and five quolls -- a carnivorous native cat -- were among the animals still on the loose in what was described as a devastating blow for the zoo's breeding programme.
"We're trying to increase numbers of threatened species and we've lost a good part of that programme," said keeper Courtney McMahon.
The zoo is also part of a national breeding programme for the endangered Tasmanian devil, which is almost extinct in the wild due to a contagious facial tumour, and McMahon said it was a huge relief no devils had been freed.
"The way that the birds were released, if these devils were released like that it would be a death sentence to th

PETA, zoo defenders trumpet their views on captive elephants
A week after a judge lambasted the Los Angeles Zoo's elephant exhibit and declared the animals were not "happy," the city's first-ever Elephant Awareness Day Friday reignited the debate over whether L.A. should pack off its pachyderms to a sanctuary.
The City Council in June voted to designate Aug. 3 Elephant Awareness Day to highlight the treatment of elephants in the U.S. and around the world.
But the day became a battleground over whether Los Angeles should continue to have elephants in its city-owned zoo.
The day began with a preview for Elephant Awareness Day, held in front of the elephant exhibit Friday morning. Female elephants Tina and Jewel walked around the Thai Yard of the exhibit, showered themselves with sand and trumpeted as kids shouted in amazement. | See photo gallery.
Zoo director John Lewis and Councilman Tom LaBonge addressed children from the zoo's camp program and their parents about the exhibit and the importance of Elephant Awareness Day.
"Our program was designed to support this North American herd and we are committed to the long-term care of elephants in zoos, as well as in the wild," Lewis said.
In his decision July 23, Superior Court Judge John L. Segal said the city did not have to close the $42 million, two-year

Pill or kill? Cramped zoos in a bind
Zookeepers around the world, facing limited capacity and pressure to maintain diverse and vibrant collections of endangered species, are often choosing between two controversial methods: birth control and euthanasia. In US, the choice is contraception. Chimps take human birth control pills, giraffes are served hormones in their feed, and grizzly bears have slow-releasing hormones implanted in their forelegs. Even small rodents are included.

Cheryl Asa, who directs the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Wildlife Contraception Centre at the St. Louis Zoo, said euthanasia was not a comfortable fit for zoos here. "On an emotional level, I can't imagine doing it and I can't imagine our culture accepting it," she said.

But in Europe, some zookeepers would rather euthanize unneeded offspring after they mature than deny the animal parents the experience of procreating and nurturing their young.

"We'd rather they have as natural behaviour as possible ," said Bengt Holst, director of conservation for the Copenhagen Zoo. "We have already taken away their predatory and antipredatory behaviours. If we take away their parenting behaviour, they have not much left." So he and many of his European counterparts generally allow animals to raise their young until an age at which they would naturally separate from parents. It is then that zoo officials euthanize offspring.

The Copenhagen Zoo, he said, annually puts to death some 20 to 30 healthy exotic animals — gazelles, hippopotamuses , and on rare occasions even chimps. The thinking is that this strategy mimics what would have occurred in the wild, where some 80% o

Zoo ethics: offspring euthanasia or birth control?
ZOOKEEPERS around the world, facing limited capacity and pressure to maintain diverse and vibrant collections of endangered species, are often choosing between two controversial methods: birth control and euthanasia.

In the US, the choice is contraception. Chimps take human birth control pills, giraffes are served hormones in their feed and grizzly bears have slow-releasing hormones implanted in their forelegs. Even small rodents are included.

Cheryl Asa, who directs the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Wildlife Contraception Centre at the St. Louis Zoo, said euthanasia was not a comfortable fit for zoos in the US. ''On an emotional level, I can't imagine doing it and I can't imagine our culture accepting it,'' she said.

But in Europe, some zookeepers would rather euthanise unneeded offspring after they mature than deny the animal parents the experience of procreating and nurturing their young.

''We'd rather they have as natural behaviour as possible,'' said Bengt Holst, the director of conservation for the Copenhagen Zoo. ''We have already taken away their predatory and anti-predatory behaviours. If we take away their parenting behaviour, they have not much left.''

So he and many of his European counterparts generally allow animals to raise their young until an age at which they would naturally separate from parents. It is then that zoo officials euthanise offspring that don't figure in breeding plans.

This year, the Copenhagen zoo has put down, by lethal injection, two leopard cubs, about 2 years old, whose genes are already overrepresented in the collective zoo population. Leopards are considered near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. But as part of a breeding plan to maintain the genetic diversity of this species, the cubs' fate was determined before they were born.

''We promised the species co-ordinator that the offspring would never leave the zoo,'' Mr Holst said, meaning they would not be bred with leopards from other zoos.

The Copenhagen zoo, he said, annually put to death some 20 to 30 healthy exotic animals - from gazelles, to hippopotamuses, and on rare occasions even chimps. The thinking is that this strategy mimics what would have occurred in the wild, where some 80 per cent of feline offspring die from predation, starvation or injury, he said.

Terry Maple, the former director of Zoo Atlanta and co-editor of Ethics on the Ark, said that while he knew of no studies assessing the importance of raising young to animals' health or well-being, observation indicated that most zoo animals are motivated and protective parents that play frequently with offspring.

He acknowledged that US zoos once focused more on the intricacies of breeding endangered species than on their day-to-day well-being, but that this was changing. In planning their populations, Mr Maple said, zoos would eventually avoid a surplus of animals and assure that most breed and raise offspring.

''I am not saying management euthana

Made your mind up? Read my thoughts on Euthanasia in the next two articles.

The Good Zoo and Euthanasia

Zoos and Euthanasia

Harvesting guano to help Peruvian penguins: Saint Louis Zoo digs in
Unlike their cold-weather relatives, Humboldt penguins live only in South America, along the rocky Pacific coast of Chile and Peru. The Saint Louis Zoo’s Michael Macek has been monitoring the penguins there, tracking their health and numbers.
Macek is back in Peru again, in a coastal reserve called Punta San Juan, where Humboldt penguins nest by the thousands. Before he left, he told St. Louis Public Radio's Véronique LaCapra that this time he’s helping to lead a sustainable guano harvest.
MACEK: Guano is poop. Guano is basically bird feces. It sounds really gross. When you actually get there it’s not as gross as it sounds, I mean! The guano actually comes from a bird called a Guanay cormorant, and they nest by the millions in Punta San Juan.
And so through the years, through the centuries, the millennia, they have nested in these areas, and it builds up, and believe it or not it can be as thick as 10, 20 feet. Now as you’re approaching Punta San Juan, you smell Punta San Juan before you see it! It’s a very sort of ammonia kind of smell to it. Once you get there it kind of — you get used to it.
But the guano itself, because it’s such dry desert, it actually looks like clay. So you’re not walking on a bunch of bird poop, it looks like clay. But it’s very, very high in nitrogen, and it’s a very valued commodity for domestic use in Punta San Juan, for fertilizer.
So they still harvest it — they call them guaneros, the people who actually harvest the guano. But it used to be that they just went in there and they brought in trucks, and people digging, and they didn’t pay any attention to where the animals were. And there’s not just penguins there, there’s fur seals, and sea lions, and the cormorants, and Inca terns, and gannets, and all sorts of other birds and animals.
 The last time they looked at this, in 1995, when it was not done sustainably, about one-tenth of the Peruvian penguin population was lost through the harvest.
LACAPRA: What is the major threat of harvesting guano, to penguins?
MACEK: Yeah, well so, these coastal areas are very rugged. Lot’s of rocks, sort of like the Northwest. And these birds burrow into the ground. Well, they can’t burrow into bedrock. So they actually burrow into the guano. That provides a substrate for them.
Well, if you remove all that — and they take it down to the bedrock — they’re on their hands and knees with little tools, just taking the very last bits off —
LACAPRA: The guaneros.
The guaneros are, yeah. So that basically leaves the penguins to lay their eggs on the rocks, and they become very vulnerable, and the survivability decreases dramatically. So that’s probably the greatest impact, is that it removes their substrate for nesting habitat.
LACAPRA: Tell me about the sustainable harvest, how does that work?
MACEK: Well, so the first sustainable harvest we had in 2001, and we had another one in 2007. So what we do, we bring a group of both American and European and Peruvian biologists down.
We do some education with the guaneros. The guaneros are not local people, they’re actually the Andean people that come from the Andes, and they traditionally have always come down to the coast to harvest the guano.
So we do a little — a number of presentations with them, telling them why this is important. We do mark off the area, so we basically delineate the areas that can be harvested, and the areas that should not be touched, and of course that’s where all the animals live. So they do not go beyond that.
And then we act as international observers, we basically just sort of have a presence with them, so if they know they’re being watched — and they’re very good about it actually, they’re very — at the end of the harvest all of the guaneros get a little diploma saying that they’ve participated in a sustainable guano harvest.
LACAPRA: OK, so I have to say, I having a little bit of a reaction like this is Americans and Europeans sort of parachuting in, and telling the Peruvians what to do. So how have you handled that, have you — what’s the reaction been, of local Peruvians?
MACEK: Well, everything is through collaboration. And I should say our original involvement in 2001 was by invitation. It was actually our Peruvian colleagues — primarily at the university, the Cayetano Heredia in Lima — it was actually them that invited us in, because they felt, having the presence of people from the outside would have a greater impact, knowing that other

Toronto Zoo names its new white lions, penguins and a pig
The two female rare white lion cubs have been dubbed Makali, which means “daring,” in Swahili and Lemon, named for her yellow colouring. Their brother has been given the name Fintan, which is the Anglicized version of the Irish name Fionntán, meaning “little fair one.”
Two penguin chicks were also named today. The bird formerly called “black band” has been officially named Chupa while “blue band” has been renamed Matata. The names don’t have a meaning, but are fun to say.
Also in on the naming fun was the Zoo’s newest Babirusa piglet, which was named Muna. It means “hope” in Swahili.
The names were among many thought up by zoo staff and volunteers and then placed on the zoo’s Facebook page where visitors voted.
Some of the names that did not make the cut were Tuxedo and Icecube for the penguins.
“Those names, while funny, are not necessarily

Bristol Zoo's breeding project to save Fen Raft spiders
AROUND 200 rare baby spiders have been 'fostered' by keepers at Bristol Zoo Gardens in an effort to protect one of the UK's most endangered species of arachnids.
Hundreds of tiny Fen Raft spiderlings (Dolomedes plantarius) have been collected from fenland areas around the UK and taken in by various collections – including Bristol Zoo – to be reared raised and released in September.
The conservation breeding project aims to save the species, which is one of Europe's largest but least common spiders, and is only found in three sites in Britain – Norfolk, East Sussex and South Wales.
The spiders are so rare that they are protected by law in the UK and have been classified as 'Vulnerable' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The three-week old spiderlings, which are just a few millimetres in size, have been transferred into 200 individual test tubes and are now each receiving intensive care by experts in Bristol Zoo's Bug World – a process that takes hours every day.
Carmen Solan, invertebrate keeper at Bristol Zoo, said: "Caring for 200 hungry young spiders is a big job. We individually feed tiny fruit flies to each spiderling; it is a very delicate process but one that we are pleased and proud to be a part of."
Mark Bushell, assistant curator of invertebrates at the zoo, added: "These spiders are very vulnerable to extinction because

World's oldest hippo dies aged 62
Donna, believed to be the world's oldest hippo, has died at the age of 62 after living more than two decades beyond the massive mammal's usual life expectancy, zoo officials said.
Donna had lived most of her life in the small town of Evansville, Indiana at the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden.
"It is with great sadness for us to announce that Donna, the world's oldest living Nile hippopotamus in captivity, was humanly euthanised this morning due to her declining quality of life caused by her debilitating severe arthritis," Amos Morris, the zoo's director, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Donna was born at what is now the Memphis Zoo in 1951 and arrived at Mesker Park on August 7, 1956.
She had eight offspring with her mate Kley and had lived at the zoo longer than any of the current staff have worked there.
Hippos typically live no more than 40

Chimpanzee 'asks' zoo visitors to free him from enclosure in heartbreaking film that shows him pointing at a window bolt and making a sign language 'open' gesture
Intelligent and inquisitive, chimpanzees have always been able to communicate with man.
But this heartbreaking video shows just how desperate this chimp is to be understood and to be let out of his cage.
The chimp is seen in the video motioning to a watching visitor to unlock the bolt on what appears to be a glass door and lift the window, so he can be free.
Tapping on the window the chimp repeatedly urges people standing on the other side of the glass to let them outside.
It links its fingers together, a signal similar to the American Sign Language representation of the word 'gate'.
Alex Bailey from Manchester, who recorded the interaction at the Welsh Mountain Zoo, interprets the signs as a direction to free the chimp, The Telegraph reported.
One chuckling man taps on the window and copies the chimp's actions, mimicking the animal's mimes of opening the window.
A bystander can be heard giggling and saying: 'He wants us to open it'.
But the chimpanzee is more focused on trying to make itself understood, as it longingly looks at the people in front of him.

Two lions 'poisoned' in Berlin zoo
Two lions in a Berlin zoo are thought to have been poisoned, officials revealed on Friday. With what, or how, remains a mystery but the animals are reportedly very ill.
Aketi and Aru were spotted foaming at the mouth around five days ago, confirmed zoo curator Heiner Klös. Since then they have been suffering from colic and are finding it difficult to breath. They have also stopped eating.
“We think that someone threw something in [to the enclosure],” Klös told local newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.
To check what exactly is wrong with the pair would require a blood sample. This would only be possible under general anaesthetic – which the pair are too ill to undergo. They are being looked after carefully though, said Klös.
The zoo has declined a full police investigation, the paper reported.
The zoo has ruled out that the food given to the lions by the keepers could have been poisoned – the meat is shared between all 16 big cats and only the brother and sister pair are ill.
This is the first time that a potential poisoning has happened in the past 25 years, Der Tagesspiegel said.
Berlin zoo has come under fire from

3 of 5 newborn lion cubs die due to ‘negligence’
Three of the five lion cubs, offsprings of an “unwanted fertilisation” in Nandanvan, the Raipur zoo, died within 24 hours of their birth. While the zoo authorities have denied any negligence in fertilisation or post-birth care, the incident leaves several unanswered questions.
Saraswati, 20, had given birth to five cubs on Wednesday between 3 and 11 pm, but zoo authorities learnt of it only on Thursday morning. Three died on Thursday night, and again the administration came to know about it only on Friday morning.
“Whenever the number of deliveries is more than three, survival rate of cubs goes down. They are unable to get proper nourishment from mother. First milk is very important for developing resistance. But as they were five, they could not get proper amount of milk,” zoo doctor Jaikishor Jadiya told The Indian Express. He cited the post-mortem report that the cub died of “improper nourishment”.
Central Zoo Authority guidelines ask zoos to “limit number of animals of each species by implementing appropriate population control measures like segregation of sexes, vasectomy, tubectomy, etc”. “We take proper measures to segregate lions, males are kept in separate enclosures. This was an accidental breeding,” Jadiya told The Indian Express. Saraswati had given birth to two male and one female cub in January 2010, and according to Jadiya,

Thai Navy Releases Nearly 1000 Sea Turtles
Nearly 1000 sea turtles were released into the Gulf of Thailand on Wednesday (August 1), part of the Thai Navy's campaign to protect them from extinction.
Nine hundred and eighty green and hawksbill sea turtles, between the ages of three months and 15 year-old, were released into the sea from Sattahip, about 124 miles from Bangkok.
Commander Kitti Wongrak, from the Sea Turtle Conservation Centre, said humans were causing the depletion in the turtle population.
"The number of sea turtles in Thailand and around the world is continually decreasing. Female turtles will lay eggs on the beach where there are no human residents, but development projects tourism expansion are threatening the species," he said.
The Thai navy had collected and looked after the turtle eggs laid in a conservation area, nurturing the baby turtles before releasing them back into nature.
Many students took part in the release of the turtles, saying they had high hopes for their survival.
"Today I want all turtles to be in the sea so they can build up their own homes and have lots of children, so we can always have them with us," said Preawa Matchima, a 10-year-old student.
The Thai Navy Sea Turtle Conservation Centre launched the campaign in 1992, releasing about 10,000 to 12,000 turtles over the course of each year.
The Thai Navy added that some turtles were implanted with microchips to track them.
Five species of sea turtles have been found along the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman sea

Turtle Conservation in Thailand

Mysore Zoo seeks additional three veterinarians
Some time in January when one of the green anacondas died at the Mysore Zoo, there were apprehensions about the survival of remaining four large, non-venomous snakes. It subjected them to ultrasonographic tests. It has procured a sonography to help its veterinarians to diagnose the inmates better.
The conservation centre is equipped itself to take care of its inmates: It has a laboratory, drug store, portable radiographic machine, pneumatic tranquilizing equipments, squeeze cage for physical restraining of animals, holding rooms to quarantine animals and an artificial egg incubator. While there are infrastructure

Rescued ploughshare tortoises start first European breeding programme
Conservationists are launching the first European breeding programme for ploughshare tortoises in an attempt to create a vital safety net population of the Critically Endangered animals.
Ploughshare tortoises are already being kept in captivity in America, where 20 animals are registered within three institutions, but it is the first time that they are being coordinated to form a breeding population in Europe. It follows a boom in the Asian pet trade, where ploughshares are being sold illegally for high prices, raising further concern for the future of the species.
The ploughshare tortoise is one of the most threatened species on the planet and until now, conservation efforts have focused on saving the species in its home range in Madagascar and protecting its native habitat, where Durrell began working with the species in 1986.
To start the European breeding programme, 13 rescued tortoises have been brought to three respected zoological institutions. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, Chester Zoo and Rotterdam Zoo are each receiving some of the animals, which were part of shipments that were seized by the Hong Kong government in 2009 and 2010.
Matthias Goetz, Head of Durrell’s Herpetology Department, said: “Thankfully the rescued tortoises were given to the Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden (KFBG) wild animal rescue centre, which took great care of them and started working with international partners to identify new homes for the animals. Along with the other two European institutions, Durrell is delighted to be receiving some of the tortoises and playing a part in a new captive breeding programme which aims to save these beautiful creatures from extinction.”
Restricted to small fragments of land in the northwest of Madagascar, the tortoise has historically lost much of its habitat to burning for cattle farming. However, the rarity of the species has made it one of the most sought after reptiles in the illegal pet trade, and individuals are able to command high prices in the markets of South East Asia and beyond.
Matthias said: “Sadly, an increasing number of animals have been smuggled out of Madagascar through South Asian countries where more and more have been seized by border authorities. While it has been possible to repatriate some, this is challenging and if the animals have spent time outside of Madagascar there are disease risks to bringing them back. Equally, establishing a viable international breeding programme for the species has been identified as one of the key approaches to ensuring the species’ survival.”
The European breeding programme will now work alongside the one in America and the dedicated conservation actions in Madagascar. However, Dr Gerardo Garcia, Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates for Chester Zoo, stressed that they would have to be patient while waiting for results from the new arrivals.
He explained: “As with all things associated with tortoises, it will take a while before these animals are ready to breed. They are only young and it will take a few years for them to reach maturity. But what is important is that the European breeding programme has now started and in the future, seized ploughshare tortoises will form part of an international safety net population, should the worst happen to the remaining tortoises in Madagascar.”

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