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After years of waiting, rare turtles have bred 41 hatchlings at the San Diego Zoo

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 3, 2022) – For more than two decades, conservationists from San Diego Wildlife Alliance have been waiting with anticipation as they watched for the slightest signs of breeding from a rare reptile species. This summer, their patience paid off after wildlife care team members at the San Diego Zoo welcomed 41 tiny Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle hatchlings—becoming the first accredited conservation organization in North America to hatch these endangered turtles, and furthering the organization’s ongoing work to save this vital Asian species. Three narrow-headed softshell turtles have been living at the Zoo for more than 20 years, and wildlife care specialists have spent the majority of that time closely monitoring the group for any indication that breeding has taken place. This is an extremely prolonged process as the turtles can take close to 10 years to even reach sexual maturity. Also, the reptiles usually lay their eggs overnight and cover them with dirt—adding to the difficulty of locating a nest. This summer, wildlife team members were elated when they discovered, for the first time, two nests containing 41 eggs. While a few of the turtles were hatched in the reptiles’ habitat, the team carefully removed the other eggs and placed them in an artificial nest incubator. Doing so provided an environment where team members could help maintain the optimal temperatures and humidity for hatchings—increasing their chance of survival. Eventually, their diligence paid off, as a new generation of healthy narrow-headed softshell turtles emerged from the eggs. “This is a thrilling moment for us at the San Diego Zoo, and an incredible step forward in the conservation of this species,” said Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo. “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 kno
SAN DIEGO (Oct. 3, 2022) – For more than two decades, conservationists from San Diego Wildlife Alliance have been waiting with anticipation as they watched for the slightest signs of breeding from a rare reptile species. This summer, their patience paid off after wildlife care team members at the San Diego Zoo welcomed 41 tiny Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle hatchlings—becoming the first accredited conservation organization in North America to hatch these endangered turtles, and furthering the organization’s ongoing work to save this vital Asian species. Three narrow-headed softshell turtles have been living at the Zoo for more than 20 years, and wildlife care specialists have spent the majority of that time closely monitoring the group for any indication that breeding has taken place. This is an extremely prolonged process as the turtles can take close to 10 years to even reach sexual maturity. Also, the reptiles usually lay their eggs overnight and cover them with dirt—adding to the difficulty of locating a nest. This summer, wildlife team members were elated when they discovered, for the first time, two nests containing 41 eggs. While a few of the turtles were hatched in the reptiles’ habitat, the team carefully removed the other eggs and placed them in an artificial nest incubator. Doing so provided an environment where team members could help maintain the optimal temperatures and humidity for hatchings—increasing their chance of survival. Eventually, their diligence paid off, as a new generation of healthy narrow-headed softshell turtles emerged from the eggs. “This is a thrilling moment for us at the San Diego Zoo, and an incredible step forward in the conservation of this species,” said Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo. “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 kno

In a first for North America, an endangered species of turtles has bred at the San Diego Zoo.

Over the summer, staff at the zoo welcomed 41 hatchlings from the Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle species, which is native to South Asia. It makes the zoo the first accredited organization in North America to hatch and raise the species.

Three Indian narrow-headed softshell turtles have been at the zoo for more than 20 years. All that time, zoo staff had been hoping they would one day reproduce.

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, which operates the zoo, announced the discovery on Monday.

"This is a thrilling moment for us at the San Diego Zoo, and an incredible step forward in the conservation of this species," said Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo, in a statement.

The eggs were found in two separate nests. Some of the turtles hatched in their habitat, while most of the eggs were stored in an artificial incubator to create the optimal conditions for survival. Turtle experts at the zoo say nests are often tough to find in the enclosure, as the turtles like to lay their eggs overnight and cover them with dirt.

The Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle , also known as the small-headed softshell turtle , is native to northern India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, where the animals live at the bottom of deep freshwater rivers and streams. The turtles typically breed during the monsoon months in central India and during dry months in other areas, according to the Wildlife Institute of India.

When emerging from their shell, hatchlings can be as small as about 4 centimeters. They can grow to as long as 3.6 feet from the front to back of the top shell.

The species is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, though it's unclear how many remain in the wild. Environmental pollution, sandbar habitat destruction, the international pet trade and human food harvesting have all contributed to the species' decline over the years, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance says.

"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," the zoo's Kim Gray added. "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."

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