Two critically endangered Radiated Tortoises have hatched at Chester Zoo.
The “golf ball-sized” hatchlings, which are usually found in the dry forests of southern and southwestern Madagascar, are the first of their kind to be bred at the Zoo in seven years.
Conservationists at Chester Zoo have been working to hatch the tortoises after seeing at first-hand the ongoing devastation to their forest home in Madagascar.
After eggs were laid in October by 50-year-old mum, Smoothsides. The Zoo’s new duo emerged on January 16, following an incubation of 100 days. The genders of the hatchlings are not yet known.
Both youngsters are currently being cared for in a climate-controlled behind-the-scenes breeding facility. Radiated Tortoises regularly reach the age of 100. The hatchlings parents are 75-year-old dad, Burt, and 50-year-old mum, Smoothsides. Once old enough, the young duo will join the four male and six female adult tortoises, which range from 10 to 75 years, in the Zoo’s Tropical Realm habitat.
Boasting star-shaped markings on their shells in yellow and black, the Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) is considered one of the world’s most beautiful tortoises and can grow up to half a metre in length. However, they are often victims of their own size and beauty, and conservationists say they are now classed as “Critically Endangered” in the wild.
The number of Radiated Tortoises, like most animals native to Madagascar, is in drastic decline.
Chester Zoo has been caring for the species since 2003 in the hope of creating a genetically viable population, as part of a coordinated European breeding programme. The Zoo is also working closely with field conservation partners, Madagasikara Voakajy, to restore and protect forests in Madagascar.
Deforestation of vital habitat to make way for agricultural land and grazing, hunting for their meat and poaching for the illegal wildlife trade has devastated tortoise numbers. In addition, species introduced to Madagascar by humans, such as rats and pigs, have had further impact as they eat the tortoise’s eggs and babies.
It is estimated that 18 million Radiated Tortoises have already been lost from Madagascar in the last 30 years.