Meet the five endangered turtles have hatched at the Houston Zoo. Zoo officials discovered the baby Madagascar Bigheaded turtle nestled in sandy soil in the zoo’s lemur exhibit, where seven adult turtles live.
The turtles, which have the scientific name Erymnochelys madagascariensis, landed on the Turtle Conservation Coalition’s 2011 “Turtles in Trouble” list, which collects the “Top 25 Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles at Extremely High Risk of Extinction.”
The Houston Chronicle‘s David Haydon wrote the lede of the month for his story announcing the turtles’ arrival to the broader world:
A visitor to the Houston Zoo on Friday asked what several employees were doing in the lemur exhibit’s moat.
“Oh, we’re looking for big-headed turtles. We had some hatch last week, thought we saw another one,” answered Lynn Killam, an assistant curator at the zoo’s primate section.
(While the lede was strong, the story ran with the groanworthy headline “Houston Zoo in shell shock over rare baby turtles.”)
Zoo officials, according to Haydon, discovered the babies hiding in sandy soil in the exhibit a few weeks ago. The adult turtles have lived at the zoo since they were confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Haydon reported. But, according to Adam at Austinist, zoo officials were not confident they would ever breed.
[Z]oo officials were pessimistic about the chances of a neighbors-becoming-lovers scenario breaking out, given that the turtles tend to “prey on each other when aggressive,” and are aggressive rather often.
But much to everyone’s surprise, either the special housing for the turtles “which allow the turtles to hide and escape from one another during aggressive behavior” or just a predilection for hate-sex has resulted in this modern miracle.
Madagascar bigheaded turtles are native to the lakes and rivers of Western Madagascar, but have been hunted to the brink of extinction for food and medicinal purposes. Learn more about Madagascar’s endangered tortoises and turtles in this New Yorker profile of herpetophile and conservationist Eric Goode.