Rare Chinese Turtles Hatch at NYC Zoo


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Five rare Chinese big-headed turtles, scientifically known as Platysternon megacephalum, were born at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo in November.

The 7-inch-long turtle gets its name because its skull is so large that its head is unable to retract into its shell. The five at Prospect Park represent the first successful breeding of the species within a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The turtles are a part of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s global endeavor to save critically endangered turtles from extinction. Jim Breheny, WCS Executive Vice President of Zoos and Aquarium and Bronx Zoo Director, commented, “The success we are seeing at this point in our turtle propagation work is encouraging. Our work on breeding endangered turtles utilizes the expertise found throughout the entire WCS organization as well as various partner organizations with whom we work.”

Check out a clip of the young turtles:

The five new turtles join ten others at the Bronx and Prospect Park Zoos, the largest bale of the big-headed species in any AZA-accredited zoo. The hatchlings and most adults are housed in private areas of the zoos, though a single adult female is on exhibit at the "Animals in Our Lives" building at the Prospect Park Zoo.

WCS is breeding Chinese big-headed turtles and other endangered turtle species to build upon a genetically viable population in-house, until conservationists are able to stabilize wild populations. Special husbandry techniques include the re-creation of environmental conditions the turtles would experience in their native habitats - mainly lighting, temperature and isolation alterations to promote hibernation. Traditionally, guy turtles usually look for lady turtles after coming out of hibernation.

The Chinese big-headed turtle is native to China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The species is classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species is readily eaten in Asia and is a common market item. Hunters typically capture them on lines using baited straight pins.

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

Image via YouTube.