Gearing up for Rafetus 2011

by E. H. King 

Editor's Note: With both the male and female Rafetus up and basking, the 2011 breeding season is upon us and all those involved are gearing up for this year‚Äôs work. Emily King will be based at the Suzhou Zoo throughout the breeding season and will be providing blog updates on this critical conservaton breeding project. 
Emily06Jun10SuzhouHi! I‚Äôm Emily and I‚Äôve been lucky enough to have worked with the Yangtze giant softshell turtles at the Suzhou Zoo since the female was introduced to the male back in 2008.  For me, there was never any doubt in my mind what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to work with animals, specifically with wildlife or exotic species.  But it wasn‚Äôt until I graduated from university that I discovered what so many people already knew ‚Äì that turtles are COOL.

My first job was working on a desert tortoise nutrition study and I was amazed by how these animals adapted to their desert lifestyles.  I wanted to know more.  So, I went back to school where I was exposed to not only other tortoises and freshwater turtles but to sea turtles as well and was introduced to that wonderful thing known as field work. I got to see turtles in all sorts of different environments and learn about their unique adaptions for survival in their given habitats.  I was hooked.
After I finished my masters, I shifted away from turtles, taking an opportunity to work on pandas in China instead.  While this may seem odd to some  (why would a turtle person choose to study mammals instead?), what I saw was the opportunity to expose myself to whole new set of experiences and learn about new species.  
team_2009_2However, life works in mysterious ways and turtles were in my future.  As it turned out, a panda colleague of mine told me about the Yangtze giant softshell turtles and the TSA‚Äôs opening for an on-the-ground biologist during the breeding season. I sent in my application and the rest, as they say, is history.
02IncubatorsEmilyKingThis is the fourth year for the project and things have never looked better.  The renovations to their enclosures were completed at the end of last summer and both animals have had access to the large and small ponds since then.  They are behaving normally and have also begun to approach one another ‚Äì a good sign for future matings.  All of us involved are hopeful that 2011 will be the Year of the Rafetus, ending with many hatchlings crawling and swimming around ‚Äì a sight that I can hardly wait for.