Another year, another rare tortoise hatched in Yokohama
By SHIORI SATO/ Staff Writer Copyright © The Asahi Shimbun Company.
YOKOHAMA–A critically endangered tortoise here is doing its bit in the fight for survival of the species by becoming a baby-making machine.
An egg laid by the angonoka tortoise was successfully hatched at Nogeyama Zoo in August, following three hatched in 2016.
The hatchlings of last year were the first in captivity in about 30 years since one was born at Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii. And it is the first time that eggs have been hatched in captivity in successive years.
Without taking anything away from the sterling efforts of the tortoise, much credit must go to zookeeper Daisuke Kiryu.
Kiryu read up on the reptile and built a tailor-made egg incubator by hand.
“I was really glad because I felt that all that I had done has come to fruition,” Kiryu said about the successive successes.
Nogeyama Zoo is the only facility in Japan caring for the angonoka tortoise, which is a native of Madagascar. The number of tortoises on that island declined rapidly after deforestation in the 1970s. Nature conservation groups tried to protect the species, but a large number were captured in 1996 and smuggled abroad.
The angonoka tortoise was being illegally raised in Japan when police seized the first reptile in 2004. That tortoise was brought to Nogeyama Zoo and came under the care of Kiryu.
With almost no knowledge about the animal, the 47-year-old zookeeper, foreign dictionaries in hand, read articles from abroad to learn how to raise the reptile.
The temperature and humidity in the animal’s pen were controlled to match the climate in Madagascar.
Police confiscated more angonoka tortoises in 2011 when some went on sale in a pet shop. Nogeyama Zoo again took in the male and female tortoise.
Sadly, one of the three that hatched from that female’s eggs in 2016 at Nogeyama Zoo died in November.
To make the incubator, Kiryu started with a cupboard with a sliding glass door and attached light bulbs. He created an environment with a humidity of around 70 percent. Water in charcoal vaporized due to the heat from the light bulbs and helped maintain the humidity level.
Another egg is currently in the incubator.
The baby tortoises are shown to the public when the animals are feeling well enough to move about. They are now about 5 centimeters long, and it will take about 20 years for the animals to grow into adults.
Yusuke Otaki, 29, is now in charge of the angonoka tortoises.
“I believe conservation efforts can only begin after people become interested in the tortoise,” he said. “I would be very happy if more people showed an interest in the animal.”