ATLANTA - Zoo Atlanta researchers are trying to save the endangered Arakan forest turtle - one shell at a time.
Zoo officials announced Tuesday they hatched one of the rare species earlier this week, the fourth of the brown-and-tan spotted reptiles born there.
The zoo is the only facility in the world successfully breeding the Arakan forest turtle, which is on the list of the world's most critically endangered species. They were believed to be extinct for almost a century, but the turtles turned up in Asian food markets in the mid-1990s.
"Species are an ecosystem because they serve a role and you can't take them out and expect the ecosystem to function the way it has," said Joe Mendelson, curator of herpetology at the zoo.
Scientists blame the rapid disappearance of the Arakan forest turtle - much like other shelled reptiles - on their popularity in Asia for cooking and medicinal purposes.
"For a species this close to extinction, it is simply not acceptable that they are being eaten," Mr. Mendelson said. "This doesn't solve the problem of them being overharvested in the wild. It does make sure they don't go extinct while we work to solve that problem."
CRITICALLY ENDANGERED ARAKAN FOREST TURTLE
Survival Rate: The turtle, native to the Arakan hills of western Myanmar, has an abysmal survival rate. Two of the zoo's four hatchlings have died so far, and scientists say few of the turtles make it through the transport from their natural habitat to zoos and other conservation facilities.
Delicate life cycle: The eggs take 100 days to hatch, and Zoo Atlanta has another egg that is near hatching. The turtles, which are very delicate, only mate once a year. The zoo has had the pair of mating turtles since 2001, when members of the Turtle Survival Alliance bought them from a Chinese food market.
Low population: Only 12 of the turtles are living in captivity in the United States - at Zoo Atlanta, the St. Louis Zoo, the Miami Metro Zoo and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia.
- Associated Press