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Critically Endangered Turtles Hatch at the Houston Zoo

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This week the Houston Zoo announced that five baby Madagascar Big-Headed Turtles hatched in their Madagascar Lemur exhibit. The hatchlings are small – approximately 6.8 g each, just a little larger than an US Quarter, and averaging only 28.7mm wide and 32.3 mm long.

This is the first hatching at a zoo in the United States – and Houston is one of the only zoos in the world that is currently breeding them. Ranked at number 16 on the worlds’ most endangered turtle and tortoise list, these turtles are facing extinction due to drastic deforestation and illegal hunting. This species can only be found in seven protected areas in western Madagascar. 

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Adams/Houston Zoo

Read more about these endangered Turtles after the jump:

The Zoo’s Big-Headed Turtles were seen this past May engaging in nesting behavior. Keepers prepared the soil to be more “nest friendly” for the digging females who can lay up to 2 clutches of 10-20 eggs a year(the larger the turtle, the more eggs it can lay). Eggs will usually incubate at 88-87.8 degrees Fahrenheit (30-31 degrees Celsius) for about 60-90 days.

Once the eggs hatched, they were removed from the moat in the Lemur exhibit to a safe location behind the scenes at the Reptile House, where they are being monitored closely to ensure a healthy life until the babies grow bigger.

Some conservation programs in Madagascar have been successful, working with the local communities to help reestablish and protect populations in the wild. Organizations such as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust take local cultures and traditions into account in their conservation efforts - a critical step in making these programs a success.