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Toronto Zoo hatches its first critically endangered Madagascar spider tortoise
TORONTO -- After a dramatic incubation period and a lot of hoping on the part of zookeepers, the Toronto Zoo’s first baby Madagascar spider tortoise has come out of its shell -- and it’s doing just fine.
In a press release Wednesday, the zoo announced staff members were “thrilled” to report the hatching. The tortoise has been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, according to the release.
The zoo first started working with the species in 2007, and this is its first successful hatching of a Madagascar spider tortoise.
These delicate tortoises, which are the smallest of four tortoises found only on the island of Madagascar, are disappearing from the wild due to poachers.
“Every year thousands of endangered Madagascar tortoises are illegally collected by poachers,” said Dr. Andrew Lentini, Senior Director of Wildlife and Science at the Toronto Zoo, in the press release.
He added that the tortoises often end up on “the butcher block” or sold as pets.
They may be “spider” tortoises, but Madagascar spider tortoises don’t get around on eight legs. The name refers to the web-like patterns of yellow and black lines that radiate across its shell.
Photos posted by the Toronto Zoo show the baby tortoise pinched carefully between just two fingers. It is currently smaller than a golf ball, but even a fully grown spider tortoise is generally no longer than around 18 centimetres, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.
The path to the Toronto Zoo baby’s debut was not easy. The egg was laid all the way back in the fall, on Oct. 4, and then went through a “diapause,” which is a period of suspended animation, before it continued developing to prepare for hatching.
After zookeepers discovered the egg, they set it up in a “specialized incubation media (a mix of sterile vermiculite and water which maintains moisture availability to the embryo and allows for good gas exchange),” according to the press release. The egg was then incubated at specific temperatures and monitored carefully for months.
“The Toronto Zoo is proud to support efforts to save and protect turtles and tortoises around the world as a member of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA),” said Lentini.
Dolf DeJong, Toronto Zoo CEO, said in the press release that this is “a great example of the critical work done at the Toronto Zoo with our world class wildlife care team.”