Singapore Zoo Gives Rare Tortoises a Head Start in the Race Against Extinction
The Singapore Zoo unveils its newest exhibit in commemoration of World Turtle Day—Tortoise Shell-ter. Guests were treated to special Keeper Talks as well.
The tortoise sanctuary replicates the natural habitat of the world’s rarest tortoises in hopes that they would breed. This is in keeping with ongoing efforts to replenish their numbers and save them from extinction. Zoo guests can observe how these tortoises behave in nature and learn more about them.
Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) Chief Life Sciences and Deputy Chief Executive Officer Dr Cheng Wen-Haur says, “We are working in the zoo as well as in their native habitats to prevent these ancient creatures from disappearing from earth altogether. Through the Tortoise Shell-ter we would like to highlight their plights to our guests and to engage them to join us in our effort to save the species.”
The shelter houses three of the most endangered species in the world: the Radiated Tortoise, the Ploughshare Tortoise and the Burmese Star Tortoise. It also houses the Yellow-footed Tortoise and the Elongated Tortoise, as well as confiscated animals from the illicit pet trade, such as the Indian Star Tortoise.The exhibit is one of the best examples of education and conservation in the zoo. It takes a lot to care for these delicate species. The exhibit is climate-controlled with species-specific micro-habitats. The exhibit has special lighting, rock walls, and humidity levels that will give them a fair chance at thriving and hopefully reproduce.
The tortoises are well-adapted to protect themselves against their natural predators in the wild. Their shells or carapaces are tough as nails, and can shield them from most of their predators. However, they were not proof against the exploitation of humans and loss of habitat. Dr Cheng Wen-Haur says, “Within the span of just one human generation, many turtle and tortoise species have been decimated to near extinction through our activities,”
The Singapore Zoo is not just about showcasing rare chelonians in the Tortoise Shell-ter. Other turtle species not on the critically threatened list but otherwise threatened are also undergoing conservation breeding to ensure their survival. Singapore Zoo has a good history of success in safekeeping the population of endangered terrestrial and aquatic chelonian species.
These include terrapins and turtles as well as tortoises. The recent hatching of the Painted Terrapin, a critically endangered species, was the first in the zoo. Breeding is ongoing for the Southern River Terrapin, the Elongated Tortoise, and the Burmese Mountain Tortoise.
The zoo’s breeding program aims to eventually reintroduce each of the endangered species into the wild as long as they can be sure that the habitat will be a safe one for them. WRS also supports active offsite and onsite breeding and reintroduction programs in other countries in Southeast Asia. The organization also works with trade monitoring agencies to increase public awareness of the illegal trade of tortoises.
World Turtle Day is celebrated every year on May 23. It aims to acknowledge and protect tortoises and turtles, and to raise awareness of their plight in the wild and diminishing habitats. Singapore hosted it in 2016 with three special Keeper Talks at the Singapore Zoo for the edification of the guests.
Singapore Zoo is located at 80 Mandai Lake Road Singapore 729826. More information can be found at www.zoo.com.sg.