This summer, two Madagascar big-headed turtles have been given a new home at Jersey Zoo. Known locally as ‘rere’, this turtle is found only in Madagascar and is thought to be one of the most endangered species of turtle in the world. It is the first time this critically endangered reptile has gone on display to the public in a UK zoo, and Jersey Zoo is only the second zoo in Europe to hold this species.
Since 1998, Durrell has been running a conservation programme in Madagascar to ensure the survival of the rere – the country’s largest freshwater turtle. It is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, which means it is in danger of extinction in the wild, mainly due to habitat loss and overexploitation for human consumption through unsustainable fishing techniques.
“We are extremely proud to finally be able to show this very special turtle to the public at Jersey Zoo,” says Matt Goetz, Durrell’s Head of Herpetology. “So many years of dedicated conservation work in Madagascar, in one of our longest-standing projects, makes this a little milestone. I am sure visitors will appreciate seeing this magnificent species.”
As part of Durrell’s Madagascar Programme, conservationists breed and then release large juvenile big-headed turtles into protected areas. The team also works tirelessly with local communities throughout the north-west of the island to encourage the use of sustainable fishing techniques and protection of aquatic wildlife.
In 2019, the two turtles were transferred to Jersey after having been confiscated from smugglers in Hong Kong a year earlier. On arrival at the zoo, the pair stayed behind the scenes to grow accustomed to their new surroundings. Now, these precious individuals live in an area that was renovated and enlarged, especially for them in the zoo’s Reptile and Amphibian House. The turtles are not yet fully grown, but will eventually reach up to half a metre in length.
“Only through the good work of the authorities in Hong Kong and our colleagues at Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens were we able to receive these turtles after they were confiscated from smugglers in 2018,” says Goetz. “This incident highlights an increasing threat to the rere – the illegal wildlife trade. Here at Jersey Zoo, these rescued animals now form the nucleus of a new captive breeding group to learn more about the species and act as education ambassadors for our Madagascar conservation programme.”
Photo credits: Matt Goetz