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4 critically endangered baby turtles hatch at Houston Zoo

4 critically endangered baby turtles hatch at Houston Zoo

painted terrapin turtle houston zoo
These little guys are among the 25 most endangered turtle species in the world.  Photo by Jackelin Reyna

The Houston Zoo has been home to a bit of a birthing boom of late. This spring and summer, the beloved refuge welcomed a pair of precocious ocelot cubs (named Sriracha and Wasabi) and big baby elephants (the adorable Teddy and Wynnie).

Now joining the fray are four painted terrapin turtles, recently hatched at the zoo. These animals are one of the 25 most endangered species of turtles in the world, and inhabit the rivers in Southeast Asia, the zoo notes. 

These four newcomers can be found  at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates, in the water and on the shore of the orangutan moat.

Bringing these turtles to the world wasn’t easy: zoo primate keepers and veterinarians watched over the painted terrapin adults in the orangutan moat, while the herpetology keepers monitored the incubation process, per a press release. Extra care was paid to water temperature to ensure the turtles would reproduce.

A little about the turtles. The zoo notes that during breeding season, males become colorful, and their shells will lighten to reveal bold markings. Their grey heads turn white with a bright red stripe between their eyes, hence the “painted” moniker. The animals can only live in freshwater, or brackish water with low salinity, as they cannot excrete salt from their bodies.

Sadly for the painted terrapins, their eggs and meat are hunted and sold for human consumption. That, along with threats to their natural habitat, has thrust them onto the endangered list. The zoo notes that partnerships with Malaysia help preserve and restore the turtles’ habitat.

In 2020, a press release notes, the zoo’s partnerships protected more than 550 painted terrapin eggs in 33 nests in Sumatra.