European Turtle Breeding Report 2008/2009

In recent years, the interest among European zoos and privates regarding breeding Asian turtles, with an emphasis on species of the genus Cuora, has been increasing (see also the TSA Newsletter 2008). This is due to the conservation status of a number of species (classified into the highest IUCN threat categories) and thus also the difficulty or impossibility of obtaining specimens.

Cuora trifasciata 2008/2009 results

The DNA research started in 2007 and 2008 on several captive European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Cuora trifasciata specimens resulted in a revitalization of the European Studbook Foundation (ESF) studbook, managed by Torsten Blanck and Elmar Meier. The number of EAZA participants in this studbook increased and in the meantime DNA sampling has been carried out on 40 studbook specimens. This progress has resulted in more extensive DNA research on the genus Cuora, carried out by the Universities of Potsdam and Hamburg in Germany. A proposal was sent to several grant-making organizations, amongst them the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF) who approved funding in the amount of $6,500 for this project. Sample collection is already ongoing and laboratory work to detect microsatellites has started. Based on this genetics research, the first European specimen is planned to be sent to the C. trifasciata studbook program in the USA (see related article by Praschag, this edition).

Some other results within this framework include the loan of a C. trifasciata male from Rotterdam Zoo to Münster Zoo that resulted in six offspring at both Münster (4) and Rotterdam (2). Three hatchlings have also been reported by Cologne Zoo. In addition, a private ESF studbook participant paired his female at Rotterdam Zoo resulting in three fertile eggs laid in May 2009. Several recommendations were made by the ESF studbook keeper resulting in the establishment of genetically compatible breeding groups in several EAZA institutions as well as private breeders. In general, cooperation between EAZA and ESF is improving.

Cuora mccordi progress

For many years, four captive born females had been held at Rotterdam Zoo. Through mediation by Elmar Meier, an exchange with a private German breeder was arranged resulting in Rotterdam now finally having a male. Additionally, the proposed exchange of captive born specimens between the USA and Europe is looking very positive and the permit process in underway. Hopefully this year these transfers will be carried out, providing an excellent example of the type of international cooperation that is sometimes necessary to effectively manage critically endangered species.

International Centre for Turtle Conservation (IZS/ICCT) at Münster Zoo report

As already announced in the last TSA Annual Newsletter, several fertile eggs of the various endangered Cuora species had been laid through autumn 2008. The year turned out to be indeed the most successful in the short history of the IZS/ICCT breeding station. Currently, there are 22 species being maintained here and all but two regularly produce eggs. In 2008, offspring were produced by 12 species (see table).

Remarkable is the first breeding success in Meier's three-striped box turtle (Cuora cyclornata meieri) and the first hatchlings of the subpopulation from the southern part of North Vietnam (Cuora cyclornata ssp.). Especially significant is the first surviving hatchling of a Sulawesi forest turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi), the first-ever successful rearing in Europe. Hatchlings from the past two years died after three months and one week, respectively, due to feeding problems. The 2008 hatchling, however, proved to be less delicate and feeds well upon a broad dietary spectrum, gaining weight continuously.

Altogether, 49 turtles hatched at the IZS in 2008, 30 of those belonging to the genus Cuora. Eggs of Chinemys nigricans had not been incubated due to lack of interest in this species by other institutions, so that the placement of the eventual hatchlings was not guaranteed. Also, only a portion of the eggs of the Vietnam pond turtles (Mauremys annamensis) were incubated. The Arakan forest turtle (Heosemys depressa) still proves to be difficult. Despite the hatching of one single offspring, the immediate death of the young shows that nutrition of the females still needs to be optimized to result in ultimate breeding success.

- Dr. Martina Raffel
Kuratorin für in situ Artenschutz, Münster

Henk Zwartepoorte, Chair European Studbook Foundation, Assistent Curator Reptiles and Amphibians, Rotterdam Zoo, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.