In a collaborative effort with BIAZA member zoos and other collections from around the world, more than 10,000 conservation bred Polynesian tree snails have been provided, for one of the world’s largest reintroduction initiatives.
Now on their way back from the brink of extinction – after nearly being wiped out in the 1980s by the introduced predatory rosy wolf snail (Euglandina rosea) – thousands of Partula snails have been reintroduced, thanks to the global breeding programme coordinated by ZSL London Zoo and involving Bristol Zoo, Chester Zoo, Marwell Wildlife, and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
With reintroductions taking place on the islands of Moorea and Tahiti in the Society Islands, this year’s export, for the first time ever, will also include a species that is currently extinct in the wild.
ZSL’s Curator of Invertebrates, Paul Pearce-Kelly said: “This year we’ll be sending out a species of Partula, the Navenave snail (Partula mirabilis) that’s new to the reintroduction initiative and for which we have strong hopes for. I believe, through the collaborative efforts of the international zoo community and French Polynesian Government environmental agencies; this major conservation initiative has an excellent chance of saving these fascinating species”.
This release comes at a special time, as the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s expedition to the ‘South Seas’ sailed by just last week, on the 26 August – during which the first ever Partula snail was collected on Raiatea, Society Islands and named Limax faba Martyn or ‘the Bean snail’, in 1784.
The CEO of BIAZA, Dr Kirsten Pullen, said: “The Partula story demonstrates how BIAZA zoos can become a powerhouse for conservation when working collaboratively. The opportunities for the successful reintroduction of endangered species are dependent on cooperation between many different bodies including environmental agencies and the governments involved. Zoos are a part of the jigsaw and provide the expertise in managing the populations of these snails back to sustainable levels. The experiences our zoos have gained from this work can easily be applied to other species and situations”.
Jo Elliott, Animal Collection Manager at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, said: “We are proud to breed Partula snails and help restore them back into their native habitat. This is a wonderful conservation success story and really helps to highlight the important role that zoos play in protecting species against extinction. The results we are seeing are made possible through the efforts of committed zoos working together as part of an international breeding programme, which bodes well for both Polynesian tree snails and wildlife conservation in general”.
The Partula snails represent a genus of air-breathing tropical land snails, specially adapted to live in different volcanic valleys across the archipelago. The genus contains 104 species, of which there are 15 species and subspecies in the conservation breeding programme.
Once abundant across the islands, many species of Partula were nearly wiped out in the 1980s and early 1990s after the rosy wolf snail was introduced to rid the island of a previously-introduced alien species, the African giant land snail (Lissachatina fulica). Unfortunately, the predatory rosy wolf snail preferred the tiny natives.