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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December 2004, 11:12 GMT
Baby turtle gives species hope
Spiny turtle baby, Durrell Wildlife
Spiny turtles are threatened because of habitat loss, hunting and the international pet trade
A baby spiny turtle has hatched at the Durrell Conservation Trust in Jersey.

It is the first ever spiny turtle to be bred in captivity in Europe - and only the second in the world.

Spiny turtles, which live in southeast Asia, are extremely threatened in the wild because of habitat loss, hunting and the international pet trade.

But the new arrival in Jersey has given conservationists fresh hope a captive breeding programme might haul the species back from the brink.

"Breeding these rare turtles here allows us to study and learn about their breeding ecology and what makes these beautiful, yet complex, animals tick," said Gerardo Garcia of Durrell Wildlife.

"This kind of information can prove invaluable for conservation action in the wild."

Causing concern

The diminutive spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa), which grows to no more than nine inches (22.9 cm) in length, has been causing concern since it was upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN's Red List.

Spiny turtle with egg shell, Durrell Wildlife
The new baby is being given very special care
Their natural range is through southern Burma, southern Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and several Indonesian islands.

But human activity is weakening the species' grip in the wild. In an attempt to divert their almost inevitable slide into extinction, scientists are developing a coordinated protection programme.

Prior to the new spiny turtle hatching in Jersey, the only successful captive birth and rearing of one of these creatures was in Atlanta Zoo, US, in 1992.

Special care

For this reason, the new baby is being given very special care.

"When species are as endangered as the spiny turtle, each individual is like gold dust with a unique genetic profile invaluable to the ongoing survival of the species," said Mr Garcia.

Spiny turtle, Durrell Wildlife
The diminutive spiny turtle lives in South East Asia
Durrell Wildlife believes it has the credentials to run a successful breeding programme thanks to its similar experience with other species.

Durrell Wildlife, which was founded by the author and naturalist Gerald Durrell 40 years ago, was previously involved in breeding the critically endangered side-necked turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis).

"Developing transferable skills is part of what we call our 'Toolbox of Conservation,'" said Mark Stanley-Price, executive director of Durrell Wildlife.

"Our work in Madagascar with another turtle species has helped us achieve this successful spiny turtle breeding, and this in turn can feed into the future monitoring and study of spiny turtles in the wild."

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