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San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance hatched endangered softshell turtles
First accredited conservation organization in North America to hatch and raise the rare Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance recently announced that this summer its wildlife care team welcomed 41 endangered Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle hatchlings.
For over 20 years, 3 narrow-headed softshell turtles have been living at the zoo and wildlife care specialists have been closely monitoring the group for any indication that breeding has occurred. This process was so extensive because it can take about 10 years for these turtles to reach sexual maturity. Plus, they typically lay their eggs overnight and cover them with dirt, making it a challenge to find the nest.
It was an exciting moment when the wildlife team members found 2 nests with the 41 turtle eggs. Some of the turtles were hatched in the reptiles’ habitat, and the other eggs were put in an artificial nest incubator to increase their chance for survival.
“This is a thrilling moment for us at the San Diego Zoo, and an incredible step forward in the conservation of this species,” shared Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo, in an organizational release.1 “We have been focused on caring for these turtles for a very long time, and part of that care is to gain a greater understanding of the species’ natural history. With the knowledge we gain here at the Zoo, we can better assist our partners in India to help this essential species thrive in their native habitat.”
Also referred to as the small-headed softshell turtle, the Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle is a large turtle species native to the Indian subcontinent.1 They live at the bottom of deep rivers and streams in northern India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. These turtles are considered an indicator species by scientists, meaning they help establish the health of the surrounding environment.
“These turtles are higher-level predators within their native ranges,” said Gray. “If they are thriving, that means the river habitats where they live are healthy and can support other species. And that includes humans, as some local communities depend on the same water source used by the turtles.”
The species is currently listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Their population has been at risk due to the international pet trade, human harvesting for food, environmental pollution and destruction of sand-bar habitats. Scientists are now trying to discover the exact number of individuals left.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has worked with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), specifically the organization’s presence in India, to help host wetlands workshops that inform local communities about the interconnectedness between the health of native wetlands and rivers, and the well-being of local human populations.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance becomes first accredited conservation organization in North America to hatch and raise endangered softshell turtles. News release. October 3, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org/pr/SoftshellTurtle