Rare turtles hatched at Bristol Zoo Gardens

A pair of the rarest turtles in the world have hatched at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

The Bourret’s Vietnamese box turtles are each about the size of a small matchbox.

They are a critically endangered species and Bristol Zoo is the only zoo in Britain that breeds them.

The two tiny turtles hatched after 12 weeks in an incubator at a temperature of 26C

The temperature dictates whether they will be male or female so these two are likely to be girls but it will be some years before keepers at the Zoo can be certain.

Tim Skelton, curator of reptiles and amphibians at Bristol Zoo, said the turtles were the ninth and tenth to be hatched at the Clifton attraction.

The turtles come from mid-Vietnam and are in danger because they are taken for food and medicine.

They are one of three similar species of box turtles in Vietnam, the others are found in the north and south.

Tim said: “Some species of box turtle are worth their own weight in gold on the black market”

“They are critically endangered which means they are in imminent danger of extinction if nothing improves in their wild status.”

Tim said Bristol Zoo was working closely with the Turtle Conservation Centre in Cuc Phuong national park in Vietnam providing some funding, medication and advice about turtle husbandry.

It is 15 years since the first Vietnamese box turtles arrived at the Zoo and five years since the first one hatched.

The Vietnamese box turtles got their name because they have hinged plates on the bottom of their shells which allow them to seal their shells front and back like a box to protect them from predators.

The new turtles are being fed on snails, worms and fruit and are being cared for in an air-conditioned room where they will remain until they are big enough to join the Zoo’s other turtles.

Tim said: “At the very least we are preventing these turtles from becoming extinct. We have a duty to breed them and in time possibly release them in the wild. We want to do more to improve their future.”

Turtle facts

  • An adult box turtle weighs about 2lb (900g), measures some 8in (20cm) long and can live to be 50 years old
  • They are mainly terrestrial, although they will enter shallow water to hunt and soak
  • They are hunted for their meat, for use in traditional medicines or as pets and are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Endangered Species red list
  • Bristol Zoo is believed to be the second zoo in Europe to have bred the species

The Vietnamese box turtle’s name comes from its ability to box up completely within its shell. The hinged lower shell allows the turtle to seal itself in, providing protection from predators.

Primarily nocturnal, Vietnamese box turtles usually spend most of the day hiding under piles of leaf litter near streams or riverbanks.


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