The Turtle Ark at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, in collaboration with countless other Turtle Survival Alliance participants around the globe, aims to maintain and breed these critically endangered species in order to hold genetically viable assurance colonies that may one day be used for reintroduction should the wild populations become extinct.
Why are turtles and tortoises going extinct?
- Illegal trade is growing; an estimated 12 million turtles are being sold in China each year
- Imports have increased dramatically from countries around the world
- Most turtles sold are wild caught, but turtles breed and grow very slowly and they can't keep up with demand
- Throughout the world their habitats are being destroyed
Why are turtles and tortoises being traded?
- For their meat and shells
- For use in Traditional Medicine
- To be sold as pets
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's Turtle Ark
A specially designed room in the Discovery Centre at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is home to an internationally important collection of freshwater turtles to the UK. The purpose-built breeding facility is part of an internationally coordinated turtle assurance colony programme, the Turtle Survival Alliance.
More than 10 million turtles are consumed and used in traditional medicine every year in China. The Turtle Survival Alliance, administered by the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist group, has been developed in response to the threat this poses to wild populations.
The six species introduced to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo represent some of the most highly threatened species on the planet and are rare both in the wild and in captivity. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is the only zoo in the UK to hold McCord’s’ box turtle and the other five species are only held at one other UK zoo.
One turtle species in the collection is known only from the Chinese food markets and has never been found or seen in the wild by biologists. Its origin and natural habitat are therefore unknown and the fact this species is now absent from the markets suggests it may be extinct in the wild.
However, before such programmes can be undertaken, the major threats which face the wild turtles - uncontrolled and unsustainable over-exploitation - must be adequately addressed.
These new captive facilities and field conservation programme demonstrate ZSL’s growing commitment to endangered tortoises and turtles worldwide.