Hatching of five Chinese yellow-headed box turtles is a part of the WCS strategy to save the most critically endangered turtles, fewer than 150 Chinese yellow-headed box turtles remain in the wild
Five Chinese yellow-headed box turtles have hatched at the WCS Bronx Zoo. The hatchings are a part of WCS’s strategy to save some of the most critically endangered turtle species in the world.
Chinese yellow-headed box turtles are considered to be one of the 25 most endangered turtles in the world, with fewer than 150 individuals remaining in the wild.
The WCS strategy to save turtles draws on all of the resources and expertise across the institution – from its zoos and aquarium, Wildlife Health Program, and Global Conservation Programs. The plan involves preventing the extinction of at least half of the species appearing in a 2011 report by WCS and other groups that listed the 25 most endangered turtles and tortoises.
WCS will breed and reintroduce some species, develop assurance colonies (groups of animals maintained in our zoos or aquarium so that no genetic diversity is lost) for others, and protect another subset with field work. The recent hatchings at the Bronx Zoo will become a part of an assurance colony kept at the zoo.
“The success we are seeing in the early stages of this program is encouraging,” said Jim Breheny, WCS Executive Vice President of Zoos and Aquarium and Bronx Zoo Director. “Over time, we hope to expand our turtle propagation work to extend to many of the most endangered species of turtles and tortoises. In implementing this strategy we will draw on the expertise found throughout the entire WCS organization as well as various partner organizations with whom we work.”
Chinese yellow-headed box turtles require the artificial manipulation of specific environmental and climatic conditions in order to be stimulated to breed. Experts at WCS’s Bronx Zoo were able to successfully recreate these conditions in propagation areas in the zoo’s Reptile House.
“The biology of the species requires the adults to hibernate prior to breeding,” said Don Boyer, Curator of Herpetology at WCS’s Bronx Zoo. “We carefully monitor the environment and gradually reduce the temperature in order to induce a natural state of hibernation. Following hibernation, turtle pairs are introduced and carefully monitored to watch for evidence of courtship and breeding activities.”
The Chinese yellow-headed box turtle once thrived in streams in the highlands of the Anhui Province of eastern China. The population collapsed due to human consumption, use in traditional medicine, pollution, habitat loss, and pet trade.
More than half of the world’s approximately 330 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises are threatened with extinction due to illegal trade and habitat loss. Most of the world’s turtle trade is driven by demand from China, specifically for human consumption, traditional medicines, and the pet trade.
Images courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society