Sian Addison

10,000 snails

Posted: 5th September, 2018

250 years after Captain James Cook's expedition sailed to the ‘South Seas’ and collected the first Partula snail, the 10,000th snail has made the trip back.

In a collaborative effort BIAZA zoos including ZSL London Zoo, Bristol Zoo, Chester Zoo, Marwell Wildlife and RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, and other collections from around the world, have bred more than 10,000 Polynesian tree snails for one of the world’s largest reintroduction initiatives.

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”.

After nearly being wiped out in the 1980s by the introduced predatory rosy wolf snail (Euglandina rosea) these fingernail-sized snails are now on their way back from the brink of extinction thanks to the global breeding programme coordinated by ZSL (Zoological Society of London). 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”.

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. For the last 30 years zoos have been working together to breed a captive population and reintroduce Partula snails into French Polynesia.

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”.

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