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Some of the rarest turtles in the world have hatched at the Wroclaw Zoo!

Some of the rarest turtles in the world have hatched at the Wroclaw Zoo!

The Roti Island snake-necked turtle, also known as McCord's snakeneck turtle is one of the rarest turtles in the world.

Their world population in zoos is currently estimated at 250 individuals. In Poland 15 of these turtles live in the zoos in Wroclaw and Warsaw. Every hatching is a huge success and a chance to save the species – 17 years ago their population in the wild consisted of only 16 individuals! 

The Terrarium at Zoo Wrocław is widely recognized for its experience and successes in breeding endangered species, such as Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana, Chaco Tortoise, giant tortoise, Galapagos tortoise, red-necked turtle, giant frog, golden mantella or emperor spotted newt.

McCord's snakeneck turtles were discovered only in 1994. Due to their unusual appearance and scarce numbers, they quickly became a very desirable species among private breeders. This led to a dramatic increase in the trade of wild individuals captured on their home island of Roti, Indonesia, which in turn nearly caused extinction of the species in nature. To prevent this the turtle was placed on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered in 2000. A year later, a total ban on the trade of the McCords's snakeneck turtles was imposed as part of the Washington Convention (CITES). It is not known how many turtles currently live in the natural environment. During the field research carried out in 2000, only 16 individuals were found. When in 2005, attempts were made to count them again, only eggs were found, no adults. This is one of the reasons why this species is treated with a special concern. Currently 46 facilities in the world are involved in conservation breeding of these turtles, with the captive population counting 142 individuals.

Two young couples of the snakeneck turtles came to the Wrocław Zoo in April 2009 from the Rotterdam zoo. Already in 2011 we had a first successful hatching in Poland (third in Europe).

Initially our keepers had to depend on the knowledge passed onto them by the Dutch, but now they are  experts themselves, helping colleagues from around the world.

The Roti Island snake-necked turtles are difficult to breed. While adults are not much trouble, raising the young is quite complicated. Especially since this species biology is not well known. Two keepers, Magda Fabiszewska-Jerzmańska and Karolina Mól-Woźniak, have been caring for these turtles from the beginning.

- Adult individuals are easy, while young ones are troublesome. They are highly sensitive to the changes of their living conditions, such as the pH of the water or temperature. We have learned a lot over the 9 years of caring for them, but we are still learning and studying this species. When in doubt, we seek the advice of other institutions that raise them. - says Magda Fabiszewska-Jerzmańska.

- We used to acidify the water with peat to get the right pH - says Karolina Mól-Woźniak - Now we use ketapang leaves from the trees growing in the Afrykarium. 

This year's brood of five, was hatching from February to May. As they require great care, they live in the back of the Terrarium where the hatchery is. After one year they will be moved to the interim exhibit, from which the current residents will be transferred to other breeding facilities. 

In addition to the kiddos, there are 4 other individuals in the zoo, including the parents and older siblings. You can admire them on the ground floor of the Terrarium, next to bearded dragons and caimans.

The McCord's snakeneck turtles are relatively small, have a long, snake-like neck, hence the name. Adults reach about 25 cm in length (carapace).Males have tails a little longer than females. Right after hatching, they measure 3 to 5 cm and weigh about 3 grams, resembling red beans.

Young turtles have a dark carapace and a light plastron with black spots. With age the spots on the plastron pale out, and the carapace darkens. The tail is gray. The eyes are turned upward and the mouth is wide, giving the impression of a perpetual smile. However, these turtles are predators. They lay 8 to 20 eggs, which incubate for 3 months. The young eat, among others, krill and mosquito larvae, while the adults feed mainly on earthworms.


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