Rare tortoises saved

Several specimens from three species of critically endangered tortoise were given a new home at the Singapore Zoo's Tortoise Shell-ter, after they were confiscated. Others were donated by owners who realised it was illegal to own them.
Several specimens from three species of critically endangered tortoise were given a new home at the Singapore Zoo's Tortoise Shell-ter, after they were confiscated. Others were donated by owners who realised it was illegal to own them. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Three tortoise species one step from becoming extinct in the wild - the Ploughshare Tortoise, Radiated Tortoise and Burmese Star Tortoise - have found a home at the Singapore Zoo's newest exhibit, the Tortoise Shell-ter.

Ploughshare tortoises - highly prized for their striking gold and black shells - number only about 200 adults left in the wild, in an area of about 12 sq km in north-western Madagascar.

Radiated tortoises - endemic to southern Madagascar - face extinction within the next 20 years due to poaching for their meat and the illegal pet trade. The Burmese Star Tortoise has had one-fifth of its habitat, the grasslands of Myanmar, destroyed over the last 25 years.

Some of the tortoises in the Shell-ter were confiscated by the authorities from local pet owners or from shipments passing through Singapore. Others were donated after owners realised they should not have them.

To commemorate World Turtle Day yesterday, the Singapore Zoo lined up three special Keeper Talks where visitors got up close with some of the world's rarest tortoises.

"People will have more empathy for the tortoises after engaging with them and asking our zookeepers questions to find out more," said Mr Samuel Tay, 32, head keeper of Herpetology.

Delphine Kao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Rare tortoises saved'. Print Edition | Subscribe