Chinese Turtles, Endangered Big-Headed Ones, Born in US for First Time

Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 05:13 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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Five Chinese big-headed turtles born at a New York City zoo in November are the first ever born in North America and bring even more hope for these endangered reptiles.

The five hatchlings were born at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo, which posted video of one birth.

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“With so many of the world’s freshwater turtles and tortoises facing extinction, these hatchlings represent significant progress for the conservation of the species,” said Denise McClean, director of the WCS Prospect Park Zoo, in a release. “The science could help expand breeding programs to other facilities and can be useful to conservation work in the field.”

There are 15 Chinese big-headed turtles between the Bronx and Prospect Park zoos.

The turtles became endangered because of trade demand on their native turf, which is in China, Cambodia, Laos, and other countries in that part of the world. Reuters said they’re also popular pets, which also causes problems for the turtles.

Breeding the turtles meant creating environmental conditions like those in their native habitats, the zoo said. The zoos’ turtles are kept in areas that aren’t open for public viewing, although one adult turtle is usually at the Prospect Park Zoo. About half of 330 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises are endangered.

The hatchlings were about 2 inches long, and will grow to be about 7 inches long, the zoo said. This turtle species has a head of solid bone that can’t be pulled into its shell.

Zoo breeding programs are an important part of saving endangered animals. In August, two Sumatran tigers were born at the National Zoo in Washington, and that species is critically endangered. There are estimated to be only 400 surviving in the wild around the world.

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