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Conference at Colchester Zoo brings hope for some of the world's most endangered tortoises this November.

A conference organised by the Tortoise Welfare & Conservation Conference will take place at Colchester Zoo on 8th, 9th and 10th November. Due to loss of habitat, over collection for the pet trade and demand for local bush meat, many rare and beautiful turtles and tortoises that roam the planet face extinction within a decade without human intervention. Ryan Walker, specialist in Madagascan tortoises, will be speaking at the conference this November. Ryan will be giving a photo presentation of the plight of the unique Madagascan tortoises and sharing exclusive photographs taken from his three years of fieldwork. The talk is open to hobby conservationists and specialists alike.

Ryan’s talk is particularly special as it highlights Colchester Zoo’s three young Madagascan radiated Tortoises. It is hoped that this trio of customs seized tortoises from Hong Kong airport will help aid an international initiative to encourage captive assurance colonies, which may someday be releases back in to the wild. Exclusive speaker, Ross Kiester, chief scientist of American organisation The Turtle Conservancy, will be talking about the logistics of wild release and the current issues which surround illegal trafficking.

Other talks will include hospital reports and science research from the veterinary world, but in addition to speakers, practical information sessions for beginners and more advanced attendees in tortoise care and treatment has been scheduled to help share knowledge. "After a fun and successful first year with 130 people in attendance, we are proud to announce a new and improved second conference. We hope that practical days of learning and speakers such as Ryan Walker will encourage both professionals seeking experience and enthusiasts alike," says Eleanor Tirtasana.

The Tortoise Conference will take place at Colchester Zoo on the 8th, 9th and 10th November between 10.00 - 4.00pm and includes goodie bags, lunch and access to exclusive prizes in a fundraising raffle. Please note that pre booking is essential. To learn more about this event and book, please visit www.tortoisewelfare.co.uk or call 01692 402687.

UK Kamodo Success!

Colchester Zoo in Essex has achieved a remarkable breeding success with their pair of Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis). The story begins back in March 2006, with the arrival of the female, Mutu, and her sister, Keli from a zoo in Gran Canaria. As a juvenile at that stage, being one and a half years old, Mutu weighed just 1.5kg (3.5lb) and measured approximately 1m (3ft) long.

The road to success

Both females had a long process of development ahead, and were closely monitored and measured to ensure they were growing well. After four years, it was then a matter of looking for a suitable male. As only one female would be able to remain, Keli left to join another breeding programme for the species in Antwerp Zoo in June 2010. Telu the male arrived in May 2010 from Zoo Praha in Prague, on a recommendation from the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) co-ordinator, to form a breeding pair with Mutu. Although there was no guarantee that they would prove to be compatible, they were introduced together in June 2011. As the most potentially diffi cult step in the process, keepers remained close, because courtship in this species can be hazardous for the females, with the male often proving aggressive.

However, the initial meeting well, and ultimately, a breakthrough occurred early in April 2012, when, after continued sightings of positive mating behaviour, it appeared that a possible first successful mating had finally taken place.

Nesting and hatching

Then around May 16th, Mutu started showing nesting behaviour and began to lay eggs in the shallow area of substrate in her enclosure, rather than the deeper areas that had been provided for the purpose. Further substrate was therefore added to allow Mutu to excavate holes to bury her eggs within her chosen location, and by the following morning, it appeared that all eggs had been laid. The clutch of 16 eggs was removed for artifi cial incubation, in order to give them the best possible chance of survival, in line with the Komodo EEP guidelines. Incubation typically lasts for around 6.5-7.5 months. In this case, the youngster hatched on January 18th, and has been reared under an Arcadia 24w D3+ T5 lighting system from the day of hatching. Reports from the zoo are very encouraging, with the youngster being kept in an off -display facility, where it is being closely monitored. Although Komodo dragons are known to be able to produce eggs via the phenomenon of parthenogenesis (the ability to reproduce asexually) and this has been the case with successful breedings at both Chester and London Zoo, it is believed that Colchester Zoo’s success marks the first time in the UK that a Komodo dragon has been hatched successfully as a result of a natural mating.

Helping in the wild

The numbers of these lizards are continuing to decline in the wild because of habitat encroachment and a reduction in the availability of prey. The zoo’s registered charity, Action for the Wild helps to support Komodo dragon conservation in the wild through the Wae Wuul protection plan in Indonesia. Since 2005, the charity has been donating €1000 annually which goes towards protecting the remaining population of Komodo.

 

Snakes Without Scales

In the depths of Leicestershire, there is very well-respected reptile shop called Scales & Tails, which is run by David Cooke. Dave usually has some really interesting species available, and just recently, Scales and Tails became possibly the first UK establishment to welcome the scaleless Texas rat snake into its inventory. These snakes essentially lack scales over their entire bodies, with their skin having an amazingly smooth appearance, although usually, there are a few odd scales remaining, which give them a kind of "bejewelled" appearance.

The mutation is a simple autosomal recessive, and the heterozygous animals are therefore entirely normal in appearance. Dave is very keen to point out that although these snakes do not have the scales of a typical colubrid, they are no different, in terms of shedding, eating, drinking and their overall level of activity. “There is nothing other than their appearance that distinguishes them from a normal colubrid,” he adds.

I have noticed that there were some very mixed opinions about these snakes online, and I suppose they are not for everyone. Many people seem to take the view that snakes evolved scales for a reason, and it is rather unethical and unnecessary to breed animals that lack them. In my opinion though, these animals appear to be totally problem-free and as long as it stays that way, I don’t think there is a worry. They cost £1200 each. It is also worth mentioning that scaleless corn snakes are also becoming increasingly popular in the US and Europe at present, and it will only be a matter of time before a large number of people are working with them in the UK.

 

Vetark Professional Launch New Website

Vetark Professional is pleased to announce the launch of its new website www.vetark.co.uk which now incorporates Noahs Cupboard, the Vetark web shop. This sells the diff erent ranges of Vetark Health Products for reptiles, birds, small animals, cats, dogs, wild birds, fi sh and also off ers other pet accessories.

The telephone number for Vetark - 01962 844316 - remains unchanged.

Amazing finds from Madagascar

Tomato FrogThere has been a remarkable upsurge in Madagascar’s amphibian population, following a recent survey. The number of amphibians found on this island, lying off the south-eastern side of Africa, stood at around 200 species. Some 80% of the primary rainforest there has now been destroyed. Nevertheless, scientists have just announced that they have discovered up to 200 species of previously-unidentifi ed amphibians there following a detailed search, eff ectively doubling the island’s total.

Some of these new finds were made within the country’s existing natural parks, although even in these areas, illegal logging is a major problem, posing a potential threat to their future. What is particularly significant is that the vast majority of these previously unrecorded amphibian species, as with so much of Madagascar’s wildlife, are endemic whichmeans they are found nowhere else on the planet.