San Diego Zoo Welcomes Endangered Turtle Hatchlings After Two Decades

by Craig Garrett
Bentota, Sri Lanka. - stock photo

After two decades, a rare and endangered turtle species has finally bred at the San Diego Zoo. They welcomed 41 hatchlings. Zoo officials revealed the arrival of the tiny Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle hatchlings on Monday. For 20 years, conservationists from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance had been monitoring three adult turtles for any hints of reproduction. A news release shed insight on the zoo’s new residents. “This is an extremely prolonged process as the turtles can take close to 10 years to even reach sexual maturity,” the statement said.

Furthermore, these reptiles are nocturnal creatures that lay their eggs and bury them in the dirt. This makes it even harder to find a nest, the Associated Press reports. Out of the 41 eggs found in two nests over the summer, all of them hatched successfully. This makes the alliance the first accredited conservation organization in North America to hatch endangered Indian narrow-headed softshell turtles, as said by officials.

The turtles, more formally known as small-headed softshell turtles, are a sizable species originally from the Indian subcontinent. They now occupy the depths of many rivers and streams in northern India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

More about the rare turtle hatchlings

This species can be found in the Sutlej, Indus, and Ganges river basins of Pakistan, as well as India’s Godavari, Mahanadi, and other rivers. Although it is widespread, densities are low even within protected areas. The turtle is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. It prefers clear, large, or medium rivers with sandy bottoms. It spends the most part hidden beneath the sand, occasionally just the tip of its nose showing above the surface.

The Indian narrow-headed softshell turtle lies in wait for its prey, buried beneath the sand. When an unfortunate creature wanders too close, the turtle strikes with lightning speed, extending its head and neck out of its shell to snatch up its meal. In a 2009 video from Animal Planet’s show River Monsters, this behavior is captured in all its glory.

The Nepali government has established a turtle breeding center in Chitwan National Park and given permission to a nongovernmental organization to rescue and protect the turtles in eastern Nepal. Despite this, it is not on the Nepali government’s list of highly endangered creatures.

The Nepali government’s efforts, according to conservationists, do not go far enough in protecting the turtles. They have many natural and human-caused hazards. Dangers like rising flooding owing to climate change’s droughts, damming of rivers, and gravel mining.

People capture these turtles for a variety of reasons, including as bycatch and consumption. Turtle meat and eggs are sometimes eaten because they are considered a delicacy.