Houston Zoo is experiencing a baby boom. A very small baby boom of critically endangered,terrifically tiny turtles. In late August, eight Madagascar big-headed turtle babies were found swimming in their parents’ home in the lemur moat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates. Also discovered was a pregnant mama turtle full of 20 eggs that she has since laid, which are expected to hatch in the next few months. The babies and eggs are currently being cared for behind-the-scenes.
The Madagascar big-headed turtle was once widely distributed throughout the rivers and lakes of western Madagascar. However, overexploitation from a growing human population has drastically reduced and fragmented its range. One of the most endangered turtles in the world, this species is included on the Turtle Conservation Fund’s top 25 endangered turtles list and is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
In December, 2005, two male and five juvenile female big-headed turtles were confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and donated to the Houston Zoo. In 2008, these turtles were transferred to the moat surrounding the lemur habitat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates. In order to keep the turtles outside year-round, a swimming pool heater was installed to keep the moat warm during the winter months. Since these turtles can be aggressive towards each other, underwater boxes fashioned from roofing tiles and bricks were added to the moat so that the turtles could hide in them when needed.
Hatchlings have an average weight of less than .02 pounds. The average shell measurements are 1.3 inches long and 1 inch wide (that’s a tiny turtle!). The young turtles began feeding immediately on a diet of aquatic turtle pellets and romaine lettuce.