As you may have read in our previous blog about the subject, turtles have some serious problems on their hands these days. But we can’t really talk about what’s happening with turtles in the wild without showing you what turtles we’re talking about. And what better pictures to show than gratuitous photos of cute baby turtles?
The turtles you see above, besides being adorable, are very, very endangered, called Madagascar big-headed turtles. They live in the lemur exhibit, just inside the entrance of the Zoo’s Wortham World of Primates. Lemurs and these little big-heads are both from the same island off the East coast of Africa that is home to dozens of species that you’ll find nowhere else in the world (did we mention that you can travel with the Zoo to Madagascar?).
It turns out that these turtles are hunted very heavily for food, which is one of the reasons why they are critically endangered. And while a turtle feast may not exactly whet your appetite, people in Madagascar do. Now, you might say, “Well why don’t they just stop eating them?” The problem is that telling somebody not to eat these turtles is like telling you not to serve turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a cultural thing, and we’ve got to work hard to help people understand why not eating these turtles will help out the environment.
The story with these turtles is the same around the world, particularly in Asia, with turtles being hunted for food because in certain cultures, bringing home an expensive turtle to eat for dinner is like bringing home a Mercedes Benz. Then there’s the pet trade, which means that people take turtles from their wild habitats so they can be purchased as pets. Finally and most importantly, the places where these turtles live, and the habitat of turtles all around the world, is being lost because of development for palm oil plantations and countless other reasons.
Well that was depressing, wasn’t it? Here’s another cute baby turtle to bring us back up:
While the threats we mentioned are very important to understand so we know why these animals have almost disappeared, we can’t change the past. What we can do is change what we’re doing and try to help fix things for the future.
What is the Houston Zoo doing to help turtles? First off, we breed these endangered species, along with many others, so that we’ll have them for a long time to come. We were the first Zoo to breed Yellow-headed temple turtles, another very endangered turtle in Southeast Asia, and we were the first zoo in North America to hatch those cuties you just saw above. More than 15 endangered Star tortoises hatched last year, and there are more on the way this year. So we’re trying to do our part.
As for you – what can you do? Well, you’re probably not munching out on turtles, so that’s a good start. The best thing you can do is understand the issues and support organizations that are doing good. The Zoo is one of those, and so is the Turtle Survival Alliance, an organization that we work with frequently to help turtles that are confiscated from people illegally importing animals into the US.