There are few moments as memorable as bearing witness to critically endangered radiated tortoise hatchlings embracing their first day in the world.
On 10 March, a glorious autumn morning, the Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn experienced exactly such a moment when three hatchlings took their first breath of fresh air.
The animal care team celebrated their birth for two full weeks, when as a complete surprise another hatchling made its appearance on 24 March.
The determined mom, who celebrates her 78th birthday this year, had dug two specially excavated holes (15cm – 20cm deep), which incubated four conservation heroes.
In both hole she laid two clutches of six eggs, and a magical four survived their life’s first great challenge. The incubation period for this species is quite long and could take up to 9 months – but is more than worth the wait.
A very excited Neal Martin (Reptile Curator), has been nurturing them in the facilities’ Animal Care Centre, to ensure the highest possible survival rate. Their living quarters is kept at a toasty 25 – 28°C, and just to be sure, also includes a cozy 40°C heat-pad for ‘cuddle time’.
The hatchlings’ teeny-tiny meals include fresh and juicy foods like baby marrows, green beans, rocket, hibiscus flowers, cucumber and spekboom leaves.
Narinda Beukes, Director: Zoological for Cango Wildlife Ranch, is the PAAZA (Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria) studbook holder for the Radiated Tortoise.
A studbook in animal husbandry is an official list of animals within a specific breed whose parents are known. All ethically operating and responsible facilities should be contributing to each species’ local studbook, to ensure efficient records of the species in a captive environment.
Cango Wildlife Ranch is passionate about keeping appropriate records, as it coincides with their efforts to create a genetically viable and sustainable group to contribute to the international populace.
The species’ name, radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), comes from their carapace which is dazzlingly marked with yellow lines radiating from the center of each dark plate of the shell. Although few things surpass a hatchlings’ cuteness, good genes surely make good babies and credit must be given to their 78-year-old mom and beautifully marked 33-year-old dad.
Known as the world’s most beautiful tortoise, these four siblings are invaluable for a species truly facing extinction. Sadly, beauty has also made them one of the most sought-after tortoises in the world – and history has proved many times over, that humans are capable of awful things.
Human consumption and the illegal pet trade have removed many radiated tortoises from the wild, and within their native range, Madagascar, they are now only found seldomly and sporadically.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has classified the radiated tortoise as an Appendix I species for which there is no legal export or import, yet they often appear in the black-market pet trade in Southeast Asia.
Human consumption also remains a major concern in Madagascar, where eerie and emptied shells can be found on the sides of roads – especially over Easter and Christmas.
Thankfully, this will never be the fate of the new additions. Their birth is a milestone for conservation and has brought with it new hope for the entire species’ survival.
Though still young, these 6cm hard-shelled gems have a massive role to play in the awareness, education and preservation of a species, who should we lose them, would leave a very dull and unadorned hole in Mother Nature’s crown.
– Cango Wildlife Ranch