Two tiny endangered turtles measuring slightly bigger than a 50p coin and weighing just 12g each have hatched at a zoo.
Keepers at Bristol Zoo Gardens have spent 12 years trying to successfully breed keeled box turtles. There are just 15 keeled box turtles in zoos across Europe and only 49 in the world, with five now in Bristol.
The two turtles, which hatched after more than three months of incubation, are believed to be the first to be bred in Europe. They hatched from a clutch of six eggs and keepers hope that at least one more turtle may emerge from the remaining ones.
Tim Skelton, curator of reptiles and amphibians at Bristol Zoo, said: “We are really thrilled about this. About 10 years ago I went to Vietnam and saw them in the jungle so it is especially good to hold ones that we have successfully bred ourselves.
“It’s a UK first and probably a European first as well.”
Keeled box turtles are found in China, India and Vietnam but not in any great numbers. Their population has been in steep decline because of people capturing them for food, or to keep as pets. Numbers have also been affected by the destruction of forests where they live.
The sex of the two baby turtles is unknown and could take years for keepers to find out.
Rare keeled box turtles which have hatched at Bristol Zoo (Bristol Zoo/PA)
“They don’t show any secondary sexual characteristics until they are mature and that takes from five to 10 years,” Mr Skelton added. “They are a beautiful orangery brown colour with vibrant orange flashes underneath their shells which is something we weren’t expecting.”
When fully grown, the turtles will be about the size of a side plate and weigh up to 1kg. Keeled box turtles get their name from the three raised ridges along their upper shell.
They burrow into the soil during the day and only come out to forage for food at night. The turtles prefer solid earth to water and can be found in hot, densely wooded forests under mounds of leaves or hidden between rocks around mountains.