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Babies for endangered rainforest tortoise
A couple of Home’s Hingeback Tortoise hatchlings were born recently at The Living Rainforest eco-centre. They are part of a unique group of tortoises that can close themselves entirely within their shells when attacked.
The births have proved to be a cause for celebration, especially as 2010 is the ’International Year of Biodiversity’. Records indicate that only five Kinixys homeana babies have hatched in the UK over the last five years, while only three births are listed on an international database covering 825 zoos in 76 countries over the last year.
In its native West Africa, the Home’s Hingeback tortoise is threatened by habitat loss and intensive harvesting. 90% of its natural habitat of moist lowland forests and swamps has disappeared over the last 40 years. It is also harvested intensively for food, traditional medicines and the international pet trade.
The tortoise is especially vulnerable during the dry season, when swamps dry out and humans can access more of the forest.
The species is now classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of endangered species. Two other African hingeback species are also endangered.
Given their tender age and the risk of theft, the Living Rainforest hatchlings are not on display to the public, although their more mature relatives can be seen enjoying the shaded undergrowth of the centre’s tropical glasshouses.
The females lay oval, brittle-shelled eggs which take at least five months to incubate. The tiny hatchlings are about 5 cm long and have flattened brown carapaces (shells).
The tortoises are omnivous, eating both meat and vegetation. Their mature shells slope gently downward from their high, hinged backs, which helps to channel rainwater to the head for drinking.
The Living Rainforest will offer Tortoise Talks during half term (starting 29 May).
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