WORLD’S RAREST TORTOISES RACE AGAINST EXTINCTION AT SINGAPORE ZOO’S NEW TORTOISE SHELL-TER

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New exhibit a naturalistic sanctuary for the tortoises to display natural behaviour and breed;
Zoo celebrates World Turtle Day with special Keeper Talks for guests

Image 1: Great care was taken in designing Singapore Zoo’s Tortoise Shell-ter, now home to some of the world’s most threatened tortoises such as the critically endangered Ploughshare Tortoise (pictured above).Only 200 mature specimens are left in the wild, and survive in a 12 square km patch in Madagascar. Their decline in recent years is a result of poaching for the illegal pet trade. The species is at extreme risk of extinction in the wild within 10-15 years. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE
Image 2: Singapore Zoo has been successful in the conservation breeding and maintenance of an assurance colony of Southern River Terrapins (pictured above). More than 50 terrapins have been bred since 2007. Assurance colonies refer to the safeguarding of an endangered species under human care, in case the wild population is wiped out. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Singapore, 20 May 2016 – Boosting Singapore Zoo’s efforts to save the world’s most threatened vertebrates from extinction is its newest exhibit—Tortoise Shell-ter. Guests at the park can now look forward to learning more about some of the world’s rarest tortoises and ongoing efforts to increase their dwindling numbers.

Tortoise Shell-ter showcases three critically endangered tortoise species—the Ploughshare Tortoise, Radiated Tortoise and Burmese Star Tortoise—making it one of Singapore Zoo’s exhibits with greater conservation and educational values. Other threatened species at the new attraction include the Elongated Tortoise and the Yellow-footed Tortoise. The naturalistic exhibits feature rock walls, habitat specific planting, and climate-controlled micro-habitats, including special lighting, heating with temperature gradient and humidity control, to create the ideal home away from home for these delicate species to thrive.

Some of these tortoises share their homes with other compatible reptiles, such as the Rock Monitor, Black and White Tegu, Green Iguana and Veiled Chameleon. This provides inter-species interaction, which is a great form of enrichment for the inhabitants, as well as providing a more interesting viewing experience to the guests.
In addition to featuring threatened species, Tortoise Shell-ter is also a sanctuary for some former-victims of the illegal wildlife trade, which have been confiscated and sent to Singapore Zoo, such as the Indian Star Tortoise.

In the wild, these land-dwelling reptiles’ shells (called carapaces) shield them against predators but they are no match for the combination of habitat loss and human exploitation, including unsustainable consumption and poaching for the illegal pet trade.
Aside from showcasing these chelonians at the Tortoise Shell-ter, Singapore Zoo also contributes to safeguarding the future of other threatened species of turtles through conservation breeding and the maintenance of assurance colonies. The latter refers to the safekeeping of endangered species populations under human care in case something happens to the already diminished numbers in the wild. Singapore Zoo has a good track record of breeding threatened chelonian species, both terrestrial (tortoises) and aquatic (turtles and terrapins) and has recently had the first hatching for the critically endangered Painted Terrapin. Other threatened species bred at the Zoo include the endangered Elongated Tortoise and Burmese Mountain Tortoise and the critically endangered Southern River Terrapin.

The park’s breeding programmes offer the possibility of reintroducing the animals to the wild whenever their safety can be ensured in their natural habitat. In addition, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) actively supports on-site and off-site breeding and reintroduction programmes in a few Southeast Asian countries. It also collaborates with trade monitoring organisations to raise awareness on illegal wildlife trade of tortoises.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Life Sciences Officer, WRS, said: “Within the span of just one human generation, many turtle and tortoise species have been decimated to near extinction through our activities. We are working in the zoo as well as in their native habitats to prevent these ancient creatures from disappearing from earth altogether. Through the Tortoise Shell-ter we would like to highlight their plights to our guests and to engage them to join us in our effort to save the species.”

World Turtle Day, observed every 23 May, aims to celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises, and their disappearing habitats around the world. To commemorate World Turtle Day this year, Singapore Zoo has lined up three special Keeper Talks for guests to find out more about these rare tortoises and their plight in the wild. Visitors will get to see the wild residents participating in a host of enrichment activities, and get up close and personal with the Indian star tortoise, the most confiscated tortoise in Singapore.

WORLD’S RAREST TORTOISES TO LOSE FACE VALUE

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Tattooing the tortoise and keeping Ploughshares out of the Illegal Trade

Tattooing the tortoise and keeping Ploughshares out of the Illegal Trade

Singapore, 16th December 2013 – Conservation organizations fighting to save one of the world’s most threatened tortoises from poachers are resorting to a drastic measure—engraving identification codes onto the animals’ shells to reduce their black market value.

Although fully protected, Ploughshare Tortoises are prized for their beautiful high domed shells, but are being pushed closer to the brink of extinction due to high demand as unique and exotic pets. Engraving a tortoise’s shell makes it less desirable to traffickers and easier for enforcement agencies to trace.

Found only in north‐western Madagascar, the tortoise is Critically Endangered and only an estimated 400 adults remain in the wild. Numbers have been devastated through illegal collection and export to meet the international demand for the pet trade, especially in South‐East Asia, where they are sold in markets particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

In March, two smugglers were arrested with 52 Ploughshare Tortoises in suitcases while attempting to enter Thailand, where traders redistribute the animals to dealers locally and abroad. This was the largest ever seizure of Ploughshare Tortoises in Southeast Asia. One of the smugglers, a Malagasy woman was jailed, while the other, a Thai man, was released on bail.

This case exemplifies the increased audacity of smugglers, the urgency of the situation and the need for enforcement agencies to take the illegal trade in this species far more seriously. Based on seizures reported in the media, at least 86 Ploughshare Tortoises have been seized since 2010. Over 60% of these seizures occurred in Thailand while remaining seizures took place in Madagascar and Malaysia; with at least one of the shipments destined for Indonesia.

Four organisations – Wildlife Reserves Singapore, TRAFFIC, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Turtle Conservancy – are joining forces to hold a “Tattoo the Tortoise” event on 16th December at Singapore Zoo to raise awareness of the plight of the Ploughshare and to build support to fight trafficking in the species.

Singapore Zoo currently houses two Ploughshare Tortoises which were confiscated by the Agri‐Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore in 2009. The pair will be used to establish an ‘assurance colony’ in Singapore. The top shell of each tortoise will be engraved during this event – a first for South‐East Asia.

The event will include presentations by experts working on the conservation of these tortoises and an exhibition open to the public. These activities provide an opportunity for the public, governments and other relevant bodies to learn about the dire situation these animals face, and what they can do to save the Ploughshare Tortoises.

For further information, please contact:

Dr. Chris R Shepherd, Regional Director, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
T: +6012 2340790, E: chris.shepherd@traffic.org

Ms Natt Haniff, Assistant Manager, Corporate Communications, Wildlife Reserve s Singapore
T: +65 6360 8659 / +65 9362 8115, E: natt.haniff@wrs.com.sg

Mr Richard Lewis, Madagascar Programme Director, Durrell Wildlife Conservati on Trust
E: Richard.Lewis@durrell.org

Ms Kaitlyn‐Elizabeth Foley, Program Officer and Grants Manager, Turtle Conserv ancy
T: +01 212 353‐5060, E: kaitlyn@turtleconservancy.org