Mamma’s a little old, but she’s helping to save her species
Environmentalists are celebrating the recent hatching of four critically endangered Radiated Tortoises in the Western Cape
After a nine-month wait, a conservation centre in the Western Cape has welcomed four critically endangered tortoise hatchlings, perhaps proving once and for all that slow and steady wins the race.
Conservationists were delighted when two sets of Radiated Tortoise hatchlings survived their incubation at the Cango Wildlife Ranch and Conservation Centre in Oudtshoorn last month.
The tortoise is named after the yellow lines that radiate from the centre of each shell plate.
The hatchlings were born to an unnamed 78-year-old mom and 33-year-old dad, from two separate clutches of six eggs each. The first two babies arrived on March 10 and the second on March 24.
Their incubation lasted nine months.
The parents were both hatched at other SA zoological facilities.
Neal Martin, reptile curator at Cango, said they were aware the eggs had been laid but were unsure of when they would hatch because the incubation period for the animal varied.
The species is not endemic to SA but found predominantly in the southern regions of Madagascar and has also been sighted in the north of the island, in Mauritius and on Reunion Island.
Because of poaching for their beautiful patterned shells and through habitat destruction, the tortoise has been declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“Poaching is very high due to consumption, collection for the pet trade and for use as souvenirs and trinkets,” Martin said.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has also classified the Radiated Tortoise as an Appendix I species, meaning they cannot be legally imported or exported.
The Cango Wildlife Ranch said last Friday that its animal care team celebrated the hatchlings’ birth for two full weeks.
“A very excited Martin has been nurturing them in our Animal Care Centre, to ensure the highest possible survival rate,” it said.
“Their living quarters are kept at a toasty 25-28°C and, just to be sure, also includes a cozy 40°C heat pad for ‘cuddle time’.”
Martin said the 6cm babies were being fed baby marrows, green beans, rocket, hibiscus flowers, cucumber and Spekboom leaves.
Martin said there were only 18 recorded Radiated Tortoises in SA at zoological facilities. “There are a number of private collections; however at this stage we are unsure how many as the stud book has only recently been relaunched and information is not very forthcoming. There are quite a number of breeders of Radiated Tortoise in America, but again, information regarding exact numbers is difficult to acquire,” he said.
Zoological director Narinda Beukes is the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA) studbook holder for the Radiated Tortoise.
“A studbook in animal husbandry is an official list of animals within a specific breed whose parents are known. All ethically operating and responsible facilities should be contributing to each species’ local studbook to ensure efficient records of the species in a captive environment.”
The Cango centre was opened 30 years ago and has more than 90 different species looked after by 100 staff.